The Chinese ministry of education (MoE) published a “blue book”, or a government report, on March 25, concerning overseas Chinese students returning to China, and looking for a job there. If Chinese press and government agency coverage on the report is something to go by, this is what the average academic returnee to the motherland looks like:
he is actually mostly a she (59.16 percent of the returnees are female), aged 23 to 33 (absolute average 27.04 yrs old), a masters student (80.7 percent), a postgraduate (9,49 percent), or an undergraduate / a student with a specialized subject (9.81 percent combined). If a postgraduate, his main fields should mainly be chemistry, material science, economics, electronics and electrical engineering, while the masters fields of study are somewhat more into the direction of finance, accounting, business management, management studies, or international business studies.
Statistics seem to suggest that there have been more returnees recently, than the 1978 to 2015 average numbers. Either way, the MoE’s Overseas Students’ Support Center deputy director Xu Peixiang (徐培祥) is quoted as saying that some 70 to 80 percent of students, in recent years, have returned after their studies abroad.1)
97 percent of those who currently study abroad are doing so at their own expense, which appears plausible when looking at the total numbers. In 2015 alone, 523,700 students reportedly left for studies abroad, and 409,100 job-seeking overseas students returned to China that year. By comparison, 248 students left China for studies abroad in 1978, according to Xinhua newsagency.
Very rough calculations with many unknowns: given that 459,800 Chinese left China to study abroad in 2014, according to this government-agency news report, the average of students leaving in 2014 and 2015 combined would be (459,800 + 523,700)/2 = 491,750, and based on an average duration of 22 months (more precisely 21.47 months) of studies abroad among the 2015 returnees, this would mean that about 901,542 Chinese students would currently be abroad.
Three percent of these would then not study at their own expense (or that of their parents, relatives, etc.). Some 27,000 of the 901,542 abroad would, based on my shoddy calculation, study with a government grant, a scholarship, etc.. And probably, very few, if any, among the 248 who went abroad in 1978, were self-paying students.
23.85 percent of the 2015 returnees have been looking for a job in state-owned companies, 19.4 percent prefer minban operations2), and foreign-invested enterprises, state institutions and financial institutions rank third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the returnees search settings. Only 3.32 percent want to establish businesses of their own (one percentage point up, compared to the 2014 returnees).
When it comes to location and company types, the returnees haven’t necessarily followed their ideas of perfect companies and locations, but looked at some hard facts (and regulations), and have therefore looked for jobs that appeared to be closer within their reach. Either way, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen are still very popular destinations, with 49.34 percent indicating these goals, but this is said to be eight percentage points less than in 2013. This share is now basically focused on other provincial-capital-level cities.
Being in a position to pay for ones studies abroad doesn’t necessarily translate into perfect (or labour-market-oriented) choices, according to the news coverage. Qi Mo (齐默), head of the returnee office at the MoE, is quoted as stating “a certain blindness” in terms of how students (and their parents) are choosing fields of studies (or majors) and places (cities and universities) abroad. Hence, the MoE was trying to provide candidates for self-paid overseas studies, as well as their families, with information to support their choices, according to Qi.
It isn’t strongly highlighted in the news, but it becomes fairly evident that while Xu Peixiang points out how returning overseas students have become a group that receives great attention at our country’s market of talents, there may be particular challenges for returning overseas students, too. When a Xinhua article mentions measures like bases (or opportunities) for practical work as supportive measures for returnees to integrate into the labor market (this might also be translated as internship opportunities), you might suspect some frustration and trouble there. After all, such “opportunities” are hardly the financial return self-paying students (and their families and networks) would expect on their investment (or borrowings).
1) According to statistics quoted in the Chinese press coverage on the MoE “blue book”, 4.04 million Chinese students have studied abroad from 1978 to 2015. 2.22 million of them have returned so far.
2) minban is a poorly defined term. There are, of course, many ways to find definitions anyway. Dorothy J Solinger, in “China’s Transition from Socialism”, first published in 1993, suggested that
there are three main types: those […] which are supposedly owned and managed by “people” (minyou-minban); those owned by the state but managed by “people” (guanyou-minban); and those jointly operated and owned by the state and the “people” (guanmingongyou).
And in 1999/2000, Guoqiang Tian, now a professor at Texas A & M University and in China, discussed in a paper on Property Rights and the Nature of Chinese Collective Enterprises why collective enterprises, especially township and village enterprises (TVEs) had – those sixteen years ago, anyway – developed more rapidly than privately owned enterprises, in China.
General note: I have no information about survey’s return rate among the former overseas students.