Mainland Chinese Students in Hong Kong and U.S. Higher Education – A Comparative Perspective

Grant Data
Project Title
Mainland Chinese Students in Hong Kong and U.S. Higher Education – A Comparative Perspective
Principal Investigator
Dr Chee, Wai Chi   (Principal investigator)
Start Date
Completion Date
Conference Title
Presentation Title
Higher Education, International Students, China, Aspirations, Adaptation
Anthropology,Education: Research on Teaching & Learning
Block Grant Earmarked for Research (104)
HKU Project Code
Grant Type
Seed Fund for Basic Research
Funding Year
China has emerged as the leading source of international students, accounting for 14 percent of global total. The number climbed dramatically after 2000, with an annual growth of nearly 30 percent. Chinese students aim first and foremost at universities in the United States. Since 2010, Chinese students have become the largest international student population in the United States. According to the Institute of International Education (2013), the number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education reached a record high of 819,644 in 2012/13. This constitutes about 4.1 percent of the student enrolments in the United States. This trend of increase has continued for the past seven years and the rate of increase has risen steadily in the past three years. There are now 40 percent more international students in U.S. higher education than a decade ago. Chinese students have contributed most to the growth, especially at the undergraduate level. Compared to 2011/12, Chinese student enrolments in 2012/13 increased by 21 percent in total to nearly 235,000, and increased by 26 percent at the undergraduate level. A similar trend is seen in Hong Kong. Although arguably studying in Hong Kong is not studying overseas, given the special socio-political context of Hong Kong, Chinese students in Hong Kong universities are under the category of international students. In the past decade, the number of mainland Chinese students enrolled in undergraduate programs funded by the University Grants Committee (UGC) has soared from 842 in 2003/04 to 6,521 in 2013/14, or from 1.8 percent to 8.4 percent of the total student enrolment. Currently, at undergraduate level, mainland Chinese students make up about 73 percent of the international student body in Hong Kong (University Grants Committee 2014). This large population of Chinese students studying outside mainland China has significant impacts on the host societies. Economic impact is probably the most obvious. For instance, international students’ spending contributes approximately $24 billion to the U.S. economy. While the economic impact is more noticeable and quantifiable, the sociocultural impacts are more subtle, complex and long-term. These students are not only transforming the global academic landscape but are also shaping the socio-cultural setting of the host societies by, among other things, bringing Chinese presence into global campuses, and intensifying cross-cultural interactions. This project, while acknowledges the significance of economic impacts, focuses more on the sociocultural aspects of Chinese students studying abroad. Chinese students studying abroad not only affect their host societies but also their sending country, China, whether they return or not after they graduate. If they do not return, China suffers from brain drain. If they return, they are likely to assume elite positions in different sectors of China and their international experiences and connections will affect whatever career sector they are in. They will bring in global perspectives and collaborations. They are a very important group of students who deserve scholarly attention. This research seeks to better understand and to depict a clearer picture of the Chinese students studying abroad. Its focus is on the mainland Chinese students pursuing higher education in the United States and in Hong Kong. These two destinations form an excellent pair for comparison because 1) while the United States is the number one destination globally for Chinese students, Hong Kong is among the most popular destinations within Asia; and 2) while the United States has a fundamentally different culture from China, Hong Kong shares very similar culture with China. Hence, a comparison between the Chinese students studying in the United States with their counterparts in Hong Kong will illuminate issues that this research focuses on—motives, experiences, coping strategies and future aspirations. This will inform what draws students to different places and how students are shaped by different experiences. Taking a micro approach from the students’ perspective, this research addresses the following questions: 1) Motives – Who are the Chinese students who go abroad to pursue their higher education? – How do Chinese students decide where to go to university? – What are the push and pull factors? – Do Chinese students studying in the United States have the same motives as those in Hong Kong? If not, how and why are they different? 2) Experiences – What are the experiences of Chinese students studying in the United States/ Hong Kong? How are they similar or different? – How do these experiences affect their education and everyday lives? 3) Coping Strategies – What are the challenges facing Chinese students studying in the United States/ Hong Kong? – What are their coping strategies? 4) Future Aspirations – What are the future aspirations of Chinese students studying in the United States/ Hong Kong? – What is their calculation of success and of failure? – Do they plan to return to China after graduation? What makes them stay and what makes them return? References Institute of International Education. (2013). Open Doors 2013: International Students in the United States and Study Abroad by American Students are at All-Time High. Retrieved 6 October 2014, from University Grants Committee. (2014). Statistics: Student (Headcount). Retrieved 6 October 2014, 2014, from