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Students need to be better marshaled

Updated: 2014-04-11 09:49
By He Jingtong ( China Daily Africa)

Getting the right students and the numbers is one thing, but managing them is another

More African students are now studying in China, thanks to the development of economic and trade relations between the two sides and China's growing economic stature.

That has happened at a time when most of the former colonial powers are losing the influence they had on Africa's education system. Developmental differences have also hampered African students, especially those educated in the US and Europe, in using their acquired skills effectively.

There are several other synergies between China and Africa. Like Africa, China underwent rapid transition to trade-based industrialization. However, it has been the Chinese success in building infrastructure that has inspired Africans to understand more about China and how its experience could benefit the continent.

Nearly 24,000 students from 50 African countries had won Chinese government scholarships by July last year, according to data provided by the China Scholarship Council. About 12,000 African students have studied in China at their own expense.

At present, China has the largest number of African students in Asia. In 2013, the number of African students in China was 24,744, accounting for 7 percent of the total number of overseas students. Student numbers rose 31 percent over three years.

Among them, the number of students from Africa's fast-growing economies continued to rise, especially those from Benin, Ghana and Nigeria. According to the Chinese embassy in Ghana, since 1998, more than 731 Ghanaian students funded by the Chinese government scholarship have studied in China. In 2013, 120 Ghanaian students funded by Chinese government and large state-owned enterprises studied in China. Most of them chose economics, engineering, computers and Chinese as their majors.

Compared with those who study in the US and the UK, those who wish to study in China do not have to undergo a lengthy visa application process. In addition, living and study costs in China are much lower than in Western countries.

Supported by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China provides diverse types of scholarships to African countries. Last year, the value of Chinese scholarships increased to 6,000 yuan ($960) a year for each student. Many institutions also give more scholarship funding and preferential terms based on a student's circumstances.

In order to learn the advanced industrial, agricultural technology and other applied sciences, African countries send students to study in China in accordance with the needs of their economic, social development and personnel training.

At present, there are African students in all the majors. Fully aware of the development of Africa's undergraduate education, the Chinese government has started to recruit and train more high-level African students for master's degree or above in recent years.

With China continuously improving the quality of its higher education, it has caught the eye of the international community. Beginning in 2002, China made a series of breakthroughs in mutual recognition of academic degrees with 32 countries including Britain, France and Germany. This means that employment and educational institutions in many developed countries now recognize the degree certificates obtained in China.

With many Chinese enterprises now planning to expand in Africa, it is clear that they will need a large pool of local talent to spur their internationalization efforts. African graduates in China can also choose to work in China or with Chinese enterprises in their home countries.

It is easy to see that China has formulated a long-term strategy to encourage African students to study in China by investing in academic and teaching facilities and by promoting global understanding of Chinese science and technology, culture and language to enhance China's cultural soft power.

Many African governments are also investing in their country's China research projects to cultivate a new generation of "China hands" to promote bilateral trade, political cooperation and cultural exchanges.

By studying in China, African students can have an objective understanding of Chinese development patterns. Many African students have realized that reporting on China by the Western media is biased, and have made their objections known.

In their eyes, they can learn a lot from China's economic development pattern, because Chinese products are popular around the globe. China can also transfer its technology to African countries without any pre-conditions. This is something that very few Western nations can do, especially as they are still grappling with the financial crisis.

It is also worth noting that with the growing number of African students, their management is also a growing concern. Because most African students are not well off, they spend a lot of effort and time in part-time jobs, which in turn affects their studies at school. This has caused great difficulties for Chinese universities.

In order to create a more efficient, convenient, intimate development platform for African students, the Ministry of Education and universities are seeking ways to improve the way foreign students are managed.

The author is a professor at Nankai University in Tianjin who specializes in China-Africa relations.

(China Daily Africa Weekly 04/11/2014 page9)