Since the first group of 30 Chinese schoolboys traveled to the United States in 1872 to study science and technology, and learn about life in America, a steady stream of youngsters has headed overseas in search of a broader education.
According to figures from the Ministry of Education, between 1978, when the country launched its policy of reform and opening up, and the end of last year, more than 1.2 million Chinese students studied abroad, of whom 319,700 later returned home.
Last year alone, almost 145,000 youngsters furthered their education on foreign soil, of whom 44,000 returned home, 5 percent more than in 2006, the ministry said.
Reflecting the growing demand for foreign study placements, the China Education Association for International Exchange will this weekend host its ninth annual China International Education Expo.
Held at the China World Trade Center in Beijing, the event is designed to promote student exchanges and encourage cooperation between seats of learning around the world, its organizers told China Daily on Thursday.
Wu Zaofeng, the association's deputy secretary-general, said: "It's clear that both the numbers of students going abroad to study and those returning is on the rise.
"Chinese families are spending more and more on the education of their children, and that's why an increasing number of overseas universities are showing an interest in our students and trying to tap into the market.
"In order to attract our best students, these universities have also boosted the quality of their education," he said.
Launched in 2000, the expo provides an opportunity for overseas schools to boost their exposure in China, Wu said.
The event is sponsored by several Chinese and foreign government departments and private organizations, including the cultural and education section of the British embassy in Beijing, the German Academic Exchange Service, IDP Australia, CampusFrance, the Spanish embassy in Beijing, Nuffic (the Netherlands organization for cooperation in higher education), New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and the Japan Student Services Association.
Some 35,000 visitors are expected to attend this year's event, as well as representatives from more than 600 colleges and universities from 30 countries, Wu said.
According to the Ministry of Education, Chinese students are currently studying in more than 100 countries. The top three destinations are the US, Japan and the UK, each hosting more than 50,000 scholars.
Zhang Xiuqin, director of the ministry's international exchange department, said Thursday: "Increasing the number of people studying abroad was one of the first steps taken in the reform and opening up drive, and that has greatly enhanced the country's economic development and diplomatic relations.
"The country views foreign study as a top development strategy and welcomes students back to use their knowledge to help build a better country."
(China Daily October 17, 2008)