Though many Chinese students continue to flood to foreign universities for their education, those at home and those returning are debating the value of a foreign education. James Melik’s article “China: the Paradox of Foreign Education,” in BBC Business News, looks at why some Chinese may have second thoughts about pursuing higher education overseas.

There was a time when Chinese students who obtained higher education abroad were considered to be the most fortunate of their generation. …[They were] virtually guaranteed the best career prospects upon their return.

3 Factors that Impact the Perceived Value of a Foreign Education:
  1. Shift in Priorities – the need for these degrees have changed.  Specifically, studying abroad used to bring with it very strong language skills, which were an asset to the workplace back home.  However, with improvements in Chinese university education, language skills acquired abroad now give students less of an competitive edge.
  2. Debt Burden: an overseas education will take longer to pay back in China, where both wages and workplace satisfaction are low
  3. Cultural adaptation: while having a Western approach would suit the management style and culture of a multinational company very well, having local qualifications when applying for positions with local companies could be more of an advantage.  Even as companies realize they need candidates with international experience and skills, they are slow to adapt their culture to attract or retain such candidates.

Colloquially, graduates of overseas institutions used to be referred to as ‘sea turtles’ – returning home with the world on their backs.  Now, however, they are referred to as ‘seaweed’ – washed up on the shore, with little or no prospect of finding work once they return home.

If a foreign degree no longer guarantees a high-paying job, does it makes sense to seek education abroad?  Fortunately, some companies do seem to be managing the cultural adaptation better and to actively seek out candidates with a Western approach.

Whether or not a foreign education is being devalued, one piece of advice for overseas students remains valuable: Seek work experience overseas as well – it will give you a better competitive advantage upon return to China.


Related: Chinese Parent Perspective

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