US student enrollment in China drops as other Asian destinations gain traction

The data from the 2023 edition of the annual US government-funded study indicates a significant drop in the number of Americans studying in mainland China.

Share the post
Photo via Pexels

The number of Americans studying in mainland China has dropped significantly, a US-funded study by Open Doors® showed.

The 2023 study titled “Report on International Educational Exchange by the Institute of International Education” bared that only 211 Americans pursued studies in mainland China in the 2021-2022 school year, a notable decline from over 11,000 students just two years prior. 

Meanwhile. data from the same study revealed that Chinese students remain the largest group of international students in the US.

In the 2022-2023 school year, at least 289,526 Chinese students studied in the US, representing a 560 decrease from the previous academic year.

The dominance of mainland China in rankings

The sustained dominance of mainland China in the rankings of countries of origin for international students in the US comes amid concerns that Chinese students face increased scrutiny at US borders.

According to the Chinese embassy in Washington, over the past two years, at least 70 Chinese students with legal visas were “interrogated, harassed, and deported” by US law enforcement at their port of entry.

Alternative study destinations

While there is evidence that mainland Chinese students, especially those from non-elite backgrounds, are exploring alternative study destinations, the United States still hosts nearly double the number of Chinese students compared to the next largest host, Britain, according to the State Department.

The US State Department issued approximately 91,000 visas this year to Chinese students, according to Brenda Grewe from the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Marianne Craven, also from the State Department, emphasized that Chinese students are a “priority and valued by US universities,” highlighting China’s significance in colleges’ recruitment efforts.

Chinese undergraduate student numbers decreasing

Continuing a trend from the previous academic year, the number of Chinese students pursuing undergraduate studies decreased during 2022-2023, reaching 100,349, which is an 8.4 percent decline from the previous year.

Similar to the previous year, the number of Chinese graduate students had a slight increase, rising by 2.3 percent to 126,028 in the 2022-2023 school year. Graduate students constitute a huge chunk of the Chinese student population in the US at 43.5 percent.

Indian enrolment at an all-time high

Meanwhile, enrollment from India, the second-largest source of foreign students in the US, reached an all-time high of 268,923 in the 2022-2023 academic year, representing a 35 percent increase over the previous year.

The Institute of International Education (IIE) does not monitor Americans pursuing full degree programs at non-U.S. institutions, and it also does not keep tabs on educational experiences that do not carry academic credit.

Additionally, it lacked study-abroad data for Americans for the 2022-2023 school year. Other sources indicate that the post-pandemic rebound observed in other countries has been slow to surface in mainland China.

Decline of Americans in China

US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns stated in June that only 350 Americans were studying in China.

IIE found that 120 Americans studied in Hong Kong during the 2021-2022 academic year, up from 32 the previous year. Additionally, 468 Americans studied in Taiwan during the same period, up from 100 US students the year before.

The institute’s representatives highlight that many countries in Asia, including China, maintained strict COVID-19 rules during that period. China only lifted its stringent zero-COVID policies in December 2022, following extensive lockdowns earlier in that year.

The decline in the availability of programs may have also contributed to the decrease in American students in mainland China. In recent years, US programs have shifted from mainland China to Taiwan.

For example, in 2021, Harvard University announced the relocation of its popular summer language program from Beijing to Taipei after 15 years in the country.

Americans studying in Hong Kong and Taiwan after the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the count of American students in mainland China has sharply declined to the lowest level in over a decade.

IIE reported earlier this year that less than 30 percent of American institutions had plans to send students back to mainland China for the 2023-2024 academic year. It marks a significant change as China is no longer in the top 20 study-abroad destinations, unlike two academic years ago when it was in the top seven.

Closure of international and private schools in China

Numerous international and private schools in China recently faced closures or mergers due to a combination of factors, including stricter regulatory measures, a decelerating economy, and a decline in the number of foreign students.

China’s privately run bilingual schools, which had rapidly expanded before COVID-19, faced challenges in 2021 when Beijing introduced stricter regulations and cracked down on private tutoring, aiming to reduce academic pressure on students and lower family expenses.

Nathan Yasis

Nathan Yasis

Nathan studied information technology and secondary education in college. He dabbled in and taught creative writing and research to high school students for three years before settling in as a digital journalist.

banner place

What to read next...
Nathan Yasis

Nathan Yasis

Nathan studied information technology and secondary education in college. He dabbled in and taught creative writing and research to high school students for three years before settling in as a digital journalist.

Sign Up for Weekly Top 12 News

Expert picks in the intl ed world, in your inbox.

Get the Top 12 trending international education news stories from around the world, sourced from authoritative media outlets and publications worldwide. 

This expertly curated newsletter aims to support the global knowledge base of international education stakeholders – higher education institutions, recruitment partners, government officials, service providers, and students. 

The newsletter is delivered to subscribers’ inbox every Wednesday evening at 10:30 PM PT / 1:39 AM ET. 

We respect and protect your privacy. If you do not wish to receive future issues of the MSM Reporter, you may unsubscribe at any time.
Read our privacy policy