Where have all the Chinese grad students gone?

According to a survey released today by the U.S. Council of Graduate Schools, Chinese applications to U.S. grad schools — once about half of all foreign applicants — have dropped precipitiously. Increases from other countries are (barely) picking up the slack: This reduced growth in overall international applications was primarily the result of the five ...

By , a former associate editor at Foreign Policy.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

According to a survey released today by the U.S. Council of Graduate Schools, Chinese applications to U.S. grad schools -- once about half of all foreign applicants -- have dropped precipitiously. Increases from other countries are (barely) picking up the slack:

This reduced growth in overall international applications was primarily the result of the five percent decline in applications from China, the source country of 29% of international graduate students at U.S. institutions. Chinese applicant declines were offset by a 20% increase in applications from India, which accounts for 20% of all international graduate students at U.S. institutions. Applications from Brazil, having increased by 9% in 2012, grew markedly this year, by 24%. Applications in 2013 also increased from Africa (6%), which saw a 3% decline last year, and the Middle East (2%), whose increase follows a more substantial jump of 11% last year. Applications across the other countries and regions covered by this survey (i.e., South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, and Europe) decreased between fall 2012 and fall 2013.

According to a survey released today by the U.S. Council of Graduate Schools, Chinese applications to U.S. grad schools — once about half of all foreign applicants — have dropped precipitiously. Increases from other countries are (barely) picking up the slack:

This reduced growth in overall international applications was primarily the result of the five percent decline in applications from China, the source country of 29% of international graduate students at U.S. institutions. Chinese applicant declines were offset by a 20% increase in applications from India, which accounts for 20% of all international graduate students at U.S. institutions. Applications from Brazil, having increased by 9% in 2012, grew markedly this year, by 24%. Applications in 2013 also increased from Africa (6%), which saw a 3% decline last year, and the Middle East (2%), whose increase follows a more substantial jump of 11% last year. Applications across the other countries and regions covered by this survey (i.e., South Korea, Taiwan, Canada, Mexico, and Europe) decreased between fall 2012 and fall 2013.

CGS President Debra Stewart calls the drop in Chinese applications "disturbing," coming after seven consecutive years of double-digit increases. (She says the Indian growth is promising, but Indian numbers tend to be highly volatile from one year to the next depending on economic factors.) Overall, the 1 percent growth in international applications was the lowest in eight years. The Chronicle discusses a number of possible explanations including slowing economic growth in China, the improvement of the country’s own higher education infrastructure, and competition from graduate schools in other countries — particularly Europe. 

It is indeed disturbing if it turns out that U.S. universities are losing their international appeal. If this trend continues, I’ll be interested to see how it factors into the H1-B visa debate. The difficulty of getting an American job may make getting an American education somewhat less appealing.  

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @joshuakeating

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