EducationVolume 14 Issue # 17

Chinese universities: new destination for Pak students

Rizwan Ali of Lahore is among 7,034 Pakistani students who are currently studying in China on 100% scholarships. His PhD major (area) is biomedical Engineering, and the degree duration is four years, from September 2016 to July 2020. His degree programme is funded by Chinese government’s Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) at the University of Science and Technology of China, (USTC), which is 4th among Chinese universities and 96th in the word ranking. The USTC is situated in Hefei city of Anhui province.


Dr Tariq Banuri, chairman of the Higher Education Commission Pakistan (HECP), says that China has become the top education destination for Pakistani students lately, as over 25,000 students are currently enrolled at different higher education institutions. In a talk with the Cutting Edge at a university seminar, held in the federal capital recently, he said that Pakistani students’ number had risen from 9,630 in 2013 to over 25,000 in China last year (2018), mainly because of a series of preferential policies after the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a pilot project of the Belt and Road Initiative.


Providing further data, Dr. Banuri said that currently 6,156 Pakistani students were studying in PhD, 3,600 in master’s, 11,100 in bachelor’s and 3,000 in short-term exchange programmes across China. Pakistani students are mainly studying Chinese language, engineering, medical, computer science and other fields.


Another Pakistani student, Ali Imran, after completing his PhD with a major in physical electronics from the School of Optics and Photonics, Beijing Institute of Technology last year, joined the School of Physics at Peking University, which is among top 10 on the whole. He is carrying out research with other fellows.


According to a study published by an English-language daily in Pakistan, Ali Imran hailing from Faisalabad, had completed his master’s in digital electronics from the University of Engineering and Technology Lahore. He did his MPhil in semiconductor physics from the Centre of Excellence in Solid State Physics, University of the Punjab, Lahore, and served as a physics lecturer at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore, for about one year, before getting admission to Beijing Institute of Technology. “I got a very good research opportunity on advance solar cell technology for future energy harvest, and in my PhD research, I proposed a new concept of flat intermediate band quantum dot solar cell,” the scholar says.


The study also presents the case of another Pakistani student, Muhammad Ahmad Amin, who’s currently working on his PhD in China and his latest project is about finger vein detection, a technology supposed to be safer than fingerprint detection, which is expected to hit the public market soon.


Yet another case is of Muhammad Zain Siddiqi from Multan, who joined prestigious Tsinghua University, Beijing, on scholarship and he would be completing his electronic engineering degree in 2021. About his future, he says he intends to join a university in Pakistan as a professor after he returns to the homeland.


These examples show that Chinese universities have become a major destination, not only for Pakistani but also students from across the globe. The Chinese government is also luring international students especially from the Belt and Road Initiative participating countries and regions through scholarships, under the Chinese government scholarship – Silk Road Programme.


Fan Hailin, Deputy Director of the Ministry of Education (MOE), Department of Higher Education, says about 489,200 international students had studied in China in 2017 – an indicator of the country’s increasing popularity as a destination among foreign students. He says that 64% per cent of the students were from countries including Pakistan, taking part in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.


The deputy director says there are strong reasons for international students to get admission to Chinese centres of higher learning. The country has focused on higher education sector during the past two decades and its institutions now stand high among the best universities and colleges of the world. According to the first-ever ranking of the QS Mainland China University Rankings, released in March 2019, almost 100 Chinese universities featured among the best on the Chinese mainland. The new ranking was based on a methodology which assesses national employer and academic reputations, research impact, percentage of international students and other factors.

According to the study, China reached its target of spending four per cent of its GDP on education in 2012, while the number of colleges and universities doubled in the last decade, now standing at around 2,900. The country’s current five-year plan, which extends to 2020, focuses on modernising and strengthening its higher education system, with key initiatives such as Project 211, which aims to bring 100 Chinese universities up to a world-class standard, and Project 985, which aims to create an even more elite group of universities. Project 985 has resulted in the creation of the C9 league, which has ambitions of becoming something like the US Ivy League.


The findings show that China has 40 institutions ranked in the QS World University Rankings-2019, including six in the global top 100, with 60 more top universities in China included in the new QS Mainland China Rankings.

With the latest figures showing that nearly 490,000 international students were enrolled in Chinese universities in 2017 (10% more than in 2016), China seems certain of meeting its target of hosting 500,000 foreign students by 2020. Leading sending countries include South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, the United States, India, Russia, Japan and Indonesia.

The deputy director at the Chinese Ministry of Education says the improved number of students is mainly because of the Chinese government’s boosted scholarship scheme, with nearly 59,000 foreign students receiving a scholarship in 2017. Another powerful draw for international students is the increasing number of English-taught programs, with the number available increasing by 63% in the last five years.


Rizwan Ali tells the Cutting Edge by an email message that his PhD degree programme is in the English language, though for the master’s programme, students medium of studies is the Chinese language. Therefore, they study the Chinese language in their first year and have to pass the HSK level 3. The Chinese government is also promoting the Chinese language among the foreign students, and in future, PhD as well as master’s programmes would have to be studied in the Chinese language and firstly, they would have to pass HSK level five for continuing their PhD programmes in Chinese universities, adds the Pakistani scholar.


Right now, the top three universities on the Chinese mainland are Tsinghua University, China, Peking University, China, and Fudan University. Tsinghua University, China, is ranked 17th in the world and first in the Mainland China Ranking in 2019. It is in the Chinese capital of Beijing and is a member of the elite C9 League. Established in 1911, Tsinghua University now has a community of just over 46,000 students, including nearly 2,700 from outside China.


The second university, Peking University, China, is a prestigious research university belonging to China’s C9 League. Established in 1898 and located in Beijing, Peking University admits a high number of international students every year and has maintained a partnership with Germany’s Freie Universität Berlin since 1981. It is ranked 30th in the world and second in China and also ranks among the world’s best in many of the 48 subjects covered by the subject rankings, achieving top 20 positions for chemistry, dentistry, modern languages, linguistics, materials sciences and others.


Fudan University is China’s third-best university according to both the World University Rankings (for which it’s ranked 44th) and the Mainland China Rankings. Fudan University is spread across four campuses in Shanghai, one of the nation’s largest hubs of finance and trade. Fudan University has a current enrolment of just under 32,000 students and is known as one of China’s most selective schools.

HECP Chairman Dr Tariq Banuri believes Pakistan would have to take special measures to benefit from the opportunities, being offered by the Chinese government to international students. After studying at Chinese centres of learning, they would be better placed not only to conduct research for local industries but also get jobs in CPEC projects, he believes.