Over 60 US universities attend a forum to attract Chinese students in Chengdu, Sichuan Province on March 23, 2018. (Photo: VCG)
Though statistics show that Chinese still account for the largest share of international students in the US, overseas education agencies and students said that the US' increasingly confrontational attitude toward China may drive more Chinese students away in the future.
Concerns over a possible tighter visa or immigration policy for Chinese applicants have increased after the US and China engaged in a tit-for-tat trade war and the US openly naming China as the top threat to its national security and a geopolitical rival.
Since trade frictions began in March 2018, the question of whether studying in the US would be affected, especially for those majoring in science, engineering and high-tech, are frequently asked by students and their parents, overseas education agencies reached by the Global Times said.
Many Chinese applying for primary and high schools in the US feel the chill, media reported.
Lower family incomes caused by downward economic pressure, diverse choices for international education and the negative impact of studying abroad at a young age were behind the drop, Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Shanghai-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, told the Global Times on Thursday.
Over 360,000 Chinese were studying in the US in the 2017-2018 academic year, and Chinese students still account for the largest share, or 33.2 percent, of international students in the US, according to the Open Doors 2018 report released in November 2018. The report was released by the US Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the US-based Institute of International Education.
However, the growth of Chinese students studying in the US has been declining for seven consecutive years, the People's Daily reported in July 2018.
There are concerns that the US might tighten visa approvals for Chinese students, or US employers might hesitate to hire Chinese staff after the trade war, said Zhao Taotao, a consultant at a study abroad agency in Zhengzhou, Henan Province.
Zhao noted that other than those concerns, only a few applicants to US universities are affected by the China-US spat for now. Their preparations began at least a year earlier, and some have not prepared for gaokao at all. However, some applicants did expand their applications to other English-speaking countries, Zhao said.
The trade war and the US' competitive mind-set have increased uncertainties among applicants to US schools. The uncertainty also drives some Chinese to choose other countries for further studies, Xiong said.
Zhang Haiwen, another overseas education consultant based in Xi'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province, told the Global Times on Thursday that countries like New Zealand and Australia are a much better choice than the US as it's much easier for Chinese students to stay there after graduating.
No longer first choice
For others, the US is no longer their first choice for further education abroad.
The US federal government's attitude toward China have little impact on the different state governments' policies on Chinese students, and from my experience, Chinese students are treated very nicely by the faculty, Wang Zhenhao, president of the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told the Global Times on Thursday.
For Wang, what makes US less attractive is the rise in tuition fees, living costs and the depreciation of the yuan.
Lin Qing, who is seeking an MBA program abroad, said business schools in the US are not among her first choices in terms of cost effectiveness and other factors.
"The tuition of US MBA programs far surpassed those in European countries and personally speaking, cultures of European countries are more attractive to me," said Lin from a middle-class family in East China's Shandong Province.
Tuition in Europe is normally over $100,000 for two-year programs, while tuition and fees for a number of top-20 US MBA programs in 2017 ranged from $120,000 to $160,000, news site usnews.com reported in April 2018.
"Meanwhile, US business schools attach greater importance to GMAT scores, which means if your GMAT performance is not outstanding, you may only get a mediocre program at the huge cost," Lin said.
After US President Donald Trump took office with his "America First" policy, the country has become increasingly less friendly to foreigners, Fang Kecheng, who is studying at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School, told the Global Times.
However, Chinese students have provided huge revenues to the US and are among the significant contributors to the US to deal with its trade deficit with China. So state governments and universities in the US are unlikely to make any negative policies toward Chinese students at least in the short term, said Fang.
International students contributed $39.4 billion to the US economy in 2016, according to the US Department of Commerce.