Stats on International Students Studying in China

While thinking about quantitative, non-economic variables that highlight China-Africa ties, I became side-tracked with the ambiguity over just how many African students were studying in China. There were official Ministry of Education (MOE) statistics, it seemed, just none consistently referenced.

In his 2011 HKU seminar presentation, Dr. Adams Bodomo referenced MOE reports on international students in China from 2006 and 2009. Using those pages as my starting point, I used Google (rather than the MOE’s internal search engine) to dig up reports from other years – 2003 up to 2016*, to be precise. I’ve summarized the major stats here, and included links for all the reports found at the bottom of this page.


For more discussion on scholarships specifically given to African students, see here. See also our article in The Conversation for a discussion on the dramatic growth of African students in China.

South Korea has consistently been the #1 country of origin for foreign students studying in China. The US, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Russia, Indonesia are all up there as well, with India and Pakistan climbing quickly up the ranks. Click here for a full breakdown by country.

Chinese Ministry of Education International Student Reports 2003-2016* and English Translations **

*  The 2010 and 2013 reports were not found. Student numbers for these years were calculated using the percent-growth reported in the 2011 and 2014 reports. Updated 10/17 to include 2016 report.

** These are my personal translations for informational purposes only. In the case of a discrepancy, please refer to the original Mandarin.

*** If you want to cross-reference with the original reports but don’t read Chinese, just do a ctrl-f search on the page for term you’re looking for. For example, to find each mention of Africa use 非洲 and it will jump to each mention of Africa in the report. 亚洲 for Asia, 欧洲 for Europe, 美洲 for the Americas, and 大洋洲 for Oceania.


China’s Scholarships for African Students & FOCAC


From 2003 until 2008, the Chinese Ministry of Education (MOE) reports on international students in China included a by-region breakdown for Chinese government scholarship data.

Starting in 2006, the Chinese government included at each Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit scholarship targets for bringing African students to study in China. In order to evaluate how China has upheld these pledges, Dr. Moore and I used the 2003-2008 scholarship data to estimate the number of Chinese scholarships to African students from 2009 onwards. We created a range of possible values based on the assumption of limited growth (linear) and best-fitting growth (exponential). Based on these estimates, China is most likely upholding the FOCAC scholarship pledges. 


* We’re aware this upper boundary figure for the 2018 estimate is not plausible. The farther out the prediction, the more likely it is that the exponential curve no longer fits reality. The exponential curve, though the best-fit using the provided 2003-2008 scholarship data, is probably just capturing the early portion of a logarithmic function that we would expect for something that is tied to population growth. Thus the choice to include a range of scholarships-given using both linear and exponential future growth.

Still, as shown in the figure below, even using only the linear estimates keeps China’s provided scholarships in pace with FOCAC pledges.


The only known comparison we have is that at FOCAC in 2006, China declared they would “increase the number of Chinese government scholarships to African students from the current 2,000 per year to 4,000 per year by 2009.” According to the MOE, 1,861 African students received Chinese government scholarships in 2006, so the 2,000 estimate quoted in FOCAC was rounded up slightly.


After The Conversation article, some Twitter feeds and friends have led to a few more reports.

  1. The continued strength of China’s educational aid to Africa from the Institute of International and Comparative Education
  2. Guangzhou, that which African students love and hate from the Southern Metro Daily

Article Reflections #9 – Agricultural Training

In a recent World Development article, Tugendhat and Alemu present primary research on China’s short-term technical and policy training courses on agriculture.


Who attends these courses? 

  • Technical civil-servants (~ 3 months, practical, hands-on training)
  • Senior officials (~ 2 to 4 weeks, more observation and policy but still some fieldwork)
  • Ministerial-level officials and secretaries (~ 14 days or less, networking, business, and policy

How do the short-term courses work? The short-term courses are “funded by the Department of Foreign Aid in MOFCOM, and the short-term courses are managed by MOFCOM’s ‘‘Academy for International Business Officials” (AIBO). A number of courses are also hosted at AIBO but more often funding is provided to other Chinese institutions such as universities, research centers, and relevant companies. Flights, accommodation and lodging are all paid for by MOFCOM, and the only costs borne by the participants or their ministries are the visa fees and stipends” (74-74). African ministries are allowed to pick which staff go (corruption/patronage or efficiency?) Almost all courses were taught in Chinese with an interpreter translating (generally into English or French). Authors observed a roughly even split between courses focused on technologies and technical methods and those focused on policy and management methods.

The authors consider three major questions:

  1. Do the training courses push a unified, central model of development. In other words, is there a Beijing consensus? While there were a few central messages pushed onto the courses (esp. China as a brethren developing country with technological experience emphasized with banquets and field trips to the countryside), there was no unified model of development or best practices dictated to course lectures. Instead, course content was largely left to the individual trainers. While course content does need approval from the central government, the lecturer’s interviewed said they rarely received comment on their submitted lesson plans.
  2. Do the training courses serve as vehicles for China’s commercial interests? The authors’ analysis shows course participants come from a diverse group of development countries and not just the resource-rich countries. However, a third of participants were offered the opportunity to buy goods connected with their training course.
  3. How do the training courses articulate China’s soft power?  The majority of the participants interviewed retained a positive impression of China. Both participants and organizers highlighted newly established relationships as the lasting impact of the courses.


The authors found no direct impact of the training courses:

“The greatest impediment to implementing the lessons from the training contexts in home contexts was either that courses were not relevant to the unique climate or socio-economic contexts the participants were from, or the job that they actually carried out” (78).

In other words, the courses weren’t geared to meet specific needs. Further, there seems to be limited options for follow-up work or funding for projects inspired by training course. Participants and lecturers alike stressed to the authors that relationship-building was more important than tangible impact of training. Tugendhat and Alemu conclude we’ll see long-term impacts from these training and they may be right. However, I can’t help but wonder if there was a more structured follow-up mechanism accompanying the training if we wouldn’t see more short-term impacts as well. It really just depends. Are the training courses about seeing China in a positive light or are they about equipping participants with the knowledge needed to improve their local situation?


Tugendhat, Henry, and Dawit Alemu. “Chinese agricultural training courses for African officials: Between power and partnerships.” World Development 81 (2016): 71-81.


Article Reflection #8 – Agri-tech Demo Centers

Starting with the 2006 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation summit, China announced that it would build agricultural technology demonstration centers (ATDCs) in partner African countries. ATDCs have been constructed in over 20 countries so far, and Xu et al.’s 2016 piece in World Development offers us great ethnographic insight into the reality of China’s ATDCs.

Summary: The paper starts with a review of China’s science and technology regime, providing the background context in which to see how ATDCs are an extension of China’s own experience of modernizing agriculture and thus China’s attempt to share that experience. The authors observed daily life at four ATDCs and it is through profiles of the managers and workers at the centers that we come to see the inherent political and social realities that get in the way of the ATDCs intended purpose of ag-tech transfer. As Xu et al. put it, “negotiations must take place about the meanings and implications of agriculture and technology, demonstration and extension, as well as aid and development” (89).

Reflections: ATDCs have a dual purpose to both share and demonstrate Chinese agri-tech to African users and to promote Chinese agribusiness. The interviews and narratives from Chinese managers and their African counterparts in Xu et al.’s paper reflect this conflict. If you’re looking for an example of why ‘the China model’ may not be as easy to export as is hoped/feared, this paper is a good place to start.


Xu, Xiuli, et al. “Science, technology, and the politics of knowledge: The case of China’s agricultural technology demonstration centers in Africa.” World Development 81 (2016): 82-91.

Article Reflections #7: Chinese Investment Abroad

I keep running into papers which cite Buckley et al.’s 2007 work on Chinese outward foreign direct investment (FDI), so I decided for this reflection post to just head straight to the original.

Summary: Buckley and co. ask if the investment location decisions of Chinese multi-national enterprises are explicable by standard FDI theory or something new & local to China which is (a) a developing country and (b) guided by central planning? They create a model to test several assumptions about the determinants of Chinese investment (1984-2001**), including two assumptions that are probably the most cited/discussed today.

  1. The amount of natural resources a country has does not have significant impact on whether or not Chinese investment will go to that country.
  2. The more politically ‘risky’ countries attract more Chinese investment.

Reflections: I see this paper cited a lot for the second conclusion, the apparent Chinese ‘preference’ for risk. What is sometimes lost when this paper is cited is that the political risk of a country was only a significant determinant when both developed and developing countries (OECD vs. non) were included in the same model.  Among non-OECD countries, political risk is not a significant determinant of where Chinese investment will go. Buckley et al. provided rationalizations for the Chinese ‘preference’ for risk. For example,  preferring to invest in developing countries b/c of China’s political advantages there or shared ideologies; state-owned-enterprise structure allows for better risk mitigation; lack of knowledge in ‘young’ Chinese companies; or even that the political risk variable itself was calculated with a Western understanding of risk. Still, those explanations obscure the basic point that outside of directing more of their investment towards non-OECD countries (less competition, perhaps?), Chinese investors appear no more attracted to the seriously risky countries than any other investor.

** This paper was written in 2007 and uses a dataset from 1984 to 2001. It would be fascinating to see an update. There are some factors that did not play a significant role in the 20th century Chinese economy that absolutely do play a role now. The authors themselves point this out by saying Chinese investment in their study was not motivated by asset-seeking as that wave had yet to happen by 2001 but was absolutely occurring in 2007 at the time of writing (think Chinese companies buying US R&D firms). However, I think returning to the natural resources and political risk question with 2002-present data would be equally as compelling.


Buckley, Peter J., et al. “The determinants of Chinese outward foreign direct investment.” Journal of International Business Studies 38.4 (2007): 499-518.