An Indian student in class in Dongguan, Guangdong Province in March, 2017. Photo: VCG
Nitish Gupta, a senior student at Tianjin Medical University, is one of the 45 in his class who came from India to pursue a medical degree in China. Of the 105 students in his class, the rest are mostly from Sri Lanka.
Gupta comes from an average family in India. China is probably the best destination that his parents could afford, he said.
Starting in 2004, China opened its doors to foreign students looking to study medicine. This has led to a surge in the number of Indian students coming to China in the past decade. Statistics from Project Atlas show that, by 2015, the number of Indian students studying in China reached 16,694, compared to 765 only 10 years ago.
A recent report from the Times of India revealed that China is receiving more Indian students than the UK. In 2016, there were 18,171 Indians in China compared to 18,015 in the UK.
Experts said that the increase can be attributed to a shake-up in policies that allow and encourage international students to take on internships and start businesses in China after graduation.
According to the Times of India, although Indian students have been coming to China to study medicine in significant numbers since 2010-11, experts attribute the latest shift to the change in admission criteria in India that took many by surprise and saw even more aspiring doctors flocking to China.
Meanwhile, an Indian student who is now pursuing his Ph.D at Renmin University of China told the Global Times that many Indian students also like to pursue engineering studies in China.
"Traditionally, Indian students, like many Chinese students, would pursue their studies in the US and UK. But it is easier to get admissions in China," said the student.
According to a survey by the Center for China and Globalization in 2017, the number of Indian students studying in China has increased by more than 20 percent on average.
Gan Yachun, an Indian student who came to Xi'an Jiaotong University to pursue her doctor's degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences in 2012, told the Xinhua News Agency that "as global environmental change is a matter of environment and development, it is pivotal for India, a country facing huge population pressure."
"China provides me with nice scholarships and the research center has high-standard experimental facilities and excellent researchers. I hope I can utilize what I have learned in China to help improve India," Gan said.
"In recent years, China has issued several policies that encourage international students to take up internships and start businesses in China after graduating. Having witnessed the rise of the country, many students from neighboring countries are attracted to pursuing a degree in China," Dr. Miao Lu, Secretary General of CCG, told the Global Times.
In January 2017, China issued a notice that allows outstanding foreign graduates to be employed in the country. According to the policy, "foreign students who have obtained a master's degree or above from institutions of higher education within the territory of China and have graduated for less than one year, and foreign graduates who have obtained a master's degree or above from overseas well-known institutions of higher education and have graduated for less than one year" can be granted a work permit valid for up to five years.
Analysts also noted the effect of China's Belt and Road initiative, which is encouraging an increasing number of Chinese companies to invest in the participating countries. This in turn creates more job opportunities for local people and motivates them to study in China.
According to the Ministry of Education, in 2016, the number of international students enrolling in China's education institutions reached 443,000, 11.3 percent higher than 2015 and 299 percent more than 2004. Those from the participating countries, in particular, accounted for most of the growth.
Meanwhile, Miao pointed out that the change could also be attributed to the US' growing protectionism and the British government's changes to its education, employment and immigration policies.
According to the CCG report, the number of international students bound for the US between 2016 and 2017 only increased by 3.4 percent to 1.08 million, compared to a 7.1 percent rise in the previous year. The growth in the number of international students heading for UK also slowed down in 2016 for the first time.
"Intense educational communication will allow Indians to learn more about China and help ease political tensions between the countries," said Miao.