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The hopes of Chinese education migrants

Published 4. November 2014, 14:48 h

Bielefeld University engaging in joint research with universities in England and China

Chinese students are the most mobile in the world. At 20 per cent, they are the largest group of international students in the industrialized countries. They also constitute the majority in Germany: every tenth international student comes from China. In a new research project, Bielefeld University is asking Chinese students what they expect to gain from studying in Europe. The project is also surveying students in China who have to travel a long way from home for their studies both inside China and abroad. Bielefeld is working together with the University of Essex (England) and the University of Tsinhua (China) on the project ‘Bright Futures’ – the first project in the world to study the attitudes and experiences of Chinese students transnationally in Europe and China.

Professor Thomas Faist leitet ein neues Projekt zu der Frage, was chinesische Studierende antreibt, für ihr Studium weite Entfernungen von der Heimat in Kauf zu nehmen.Foto: Universität Bielefeld/ Thomas Abel
Professor Thomas Faist is running a new project asking Chinese students what motivates them to accept having to travel long distances from home for their studies. Photo: Bielefeld University, Thomas Abel
‘For China, student mobility is an important economic factor. Students abroad find out about new techniques and knowledge and they import this into their own country,’ says Professor Dr. Thomas Faist from Bielefeld University’s Faculty of Sociology. ‘At the same time, these students hope that migration for education will open up bright future prospects for their careers. Faist is responsible for the German sub-study in the project together with Dr. Basak Bilecen, another researcher at the Faculty of Sociology.

‘The desire to improve their life situation through higher education is what makes millions of young people spend some time abroad,’ says Basak Bilecen. ‘When they return, they often bring back alternative ideologies with them. They also cultivate their friendships with fellow students from abroad. That all helps to internationalize China,’ she explains. 

Student migration also plays an important role within China, says Thomas Faist. ’Nowadays, more Chinese people live in cities than in the country. Some of these are young people who leave their parental homes to study in one of the major Chinese cities. We estimate that about 45 million students have moved from the country to the city for their higher education.’

The new project is comparing the experiences of Chinese students in both Europe and China. One of the topics being analysed is which sectors of the population the students come from. The researchers are also studying how experiences abroad affect the life plans of young people. For example, educational migration can lead students to change their original plans and set themselves completely new goals – either regarding their careers or where they live. The scientists are also asking what students expect to gain from what is often very expensive higher education, and how educational institutions shape their expectations and their study options.

The full title of the project is ‘Bright Futures: A Comparative Study of Internal and International Mobility of Chinese Higher Education Students’. It will run for 3 years and receive 2 million Euros funding. Approximately 600,000 Euros will go to Bielefeld University. This will come from the German Research Foundation (DFG). In China, the study is being funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC); in England, by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Contact:
Prof. Thomas Faist PhD, Bielefeld University
Faculty of Sociology
Telephone: +49 521 106-4650
Email: thomas.faist@uni-bielefeld.de

Dr. Basak Bilecen, Bielefeld University
Faculty of Sociology
Telephone: +49 521 106-4631
Email: basak.bilecen@uni-bielefeld.de

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