Column: Quality divide in higher education

Feb 27 2014, 03:05 IST
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SummaryThe faith of the resident Chinese in the the seats of higher learning in the country appears rather limited

China’s growth as a regional education hub over the last ten-fifteen years has been accompanied by an increase in the number of Chinese studying abroad. While postgraduate education in North America and Europe was always a preferred option for children in affluent Chinese families, the last few years have seen sharp increase in students enrolling in undergraduate courses, even from middle-income families. While this has been a familiar trend in India too, China has been more successful in getting back its students educated abroad. The number of students returning to the mainland after finishing studies abroad has been increasing at an annual rate of more than 30% in recent years.

While Chinese students have been returning to the mainland for several years, the recent upsurge is driven by two factors. The first is the paucity of good professional opportunities in the West following the completion of education. The financial crisis has severely depleted opportunities in the US and UK, particularly for those that are fresh graduates without specialisations. The tendency on part of most, therefore, has been to return. They have also been encouraged by the fact that the while the West has been struggling to recover, China has continued to grow at stable rates. The second important determinant driving the reverse migration has been the proactively encouraging attitude of the Chinese state. China has been providing strong incentives such as favourable taxation policies, generous housing allowance and insurance benefits, settlement allowances for spouses and children, research grants and awards for encouraging overseas Chinese experts to come back to the mainland.

The above factors point to two kinds of attitudes influencing the reverse migration. Experts, particularly those with strong academic achievements, are being pulled back largely by incentives. Others are largely being forced to return due to lack of adequately remunerative opportunities. For both categories, the post-return experiences have not been entirely bright.

Except for experts getting recruited by top-notch domestic universities like Peking, Fudan, Tsinghua and Shanghai Jiaotong, and the high-ranked state-owned enterprises in energy and financial sectors, salary expectations of the returnees have largely remained unfulfilled. Surveys reveal almost 80% of the returnees being disappointed with the salaries they are being paid. This makes the situation rather complicated for those students that come back with middle-level qualifications. Many of them, these days, are no longer from the rich and affluent families. Several of them are from the middle-class. Financing graduate

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