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International Students in China

Updated: May 28, 2023

Dear Asian Youth,

It’s been more than two months since Trump’s declaration of a new policy to restrict international university students to stay in the country angered the public worldwide. Around the same time, international students are being denied a chance at higher education in China, and no one seems to know about it. A policy set on June 10th, 2020 by the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China is prohibiting international students who reside in China from attending Chinese public high schools and universities. This policy is said to be in effect starting January 1st, 2021; that’s in about 4 months’ time. The only conditions that qualify you to pursue Chinese education as an international student are:

  1. Both parents of the international student are not official Chinese residents

  2. The international student is of foreign nationality

  3. Foreign passport has to be issued at least 4 years prior to attending school in China

  4. International students must live 2 years abroad prior to attending school in China

If you do not fulfill every single condition, you are essentially ineligible to be provided higher education.

This policy does not seem too harsh at first glance, but it is actually very damaging and unreasonable. As individuals who are Canadians by nationality and currently attending international high schools in Shenzhen and Beijing, China, we are considered the ‘international students’. However, because we attend high school in China, we are hereby banned from applying to any Chinese universities as an international student, despite studying under the International Baccalaureate curriculum (a globalized educational system). Many international students, ourselves included, have considered attending Chinese universities as a viable option. Now, unfortunately, that is no longer possible. The only alternatives now are to participate in the yearly National College Entrance Examination for all students, commonly known as 高考 (Gao Kao), or leave the country to pursue education elsewhere.

Now, many may argue that international students can just participate in Gao Kao like regular Chinese students, but this is nearly impossible. Just because students live in China does not mean they are receiving Chinese systematic education. In 2017, there were an estimated 564 international schools in operation in China. Just think about the number of international students that attend those schools! The Gao Kao encapsulates all the concepts from the four years in Chinese high school education. This standardized test is notorious for how advanced the questions and concepts are. This test puts immense psychological pressure on Chinese students, as it completely determines their four years of academic work and what type of universities they are eligible to attend. International students who did not receive Chinese systematic education should not be demanded to take this same entrance exam. It is already a daunting endeavor for Chinese local students, even though they’ve been preparing for it their entire high school career. Now mandating that international students must take the same examination is completely unreasonable, outrageous, and only adds to the students’ stress levels.

There is little to no media coverage about this topic, which is very concerning considering the number of people that it affects. The problem with this policy is its lack of flexibility and how targeted it is. Many international students attend school in China due to their parents’ jobs and do not have a choice when it comes to where they reside. Furthermore, some international students may want to attend the school where their families live (in this case, China), and can no longer be with them. Therefore, this policy neglects to acknowledge the students’ situations. Additionally, students graduating in 2021 planning to attend Chinese universities have now had their dreams taken away from them suddenly. Many have been preparing their applications and making arrangements prior to the enactment of this policy. While most international students in the U.S. have the opportunity to apply for financial aid or scholarships, it is the opposite in China. According to China’s government website, in 2019, only 63,041 international students (12.81%) received a certain amount of government scholarships, and 429,144 (87.19%) were self-funded completely. The government is failing to consider all the valuable time and energy wasted by families and students who expected a bright future in a foreign country. They gave these students zero heads-up and sprung such a groundbreaking policy right before the new school year.

What angers us most is the lack of advocacy for this topic. There is a very large stigma around being an international student in China, and many Chinese residents have some pretty gruesome views on international students. For example, we are often portrayed as dogs. We are seen as useless or worthless, lazy bums that leech off of our parents’ money. They tell international students to “go back to where they came from”, believing that we are taking away their educational resources. Not only that, but there is also the common misconception that only “dumb” students who can’t get into a good school in their own countries would come to China. These negative comments have a large impact on international students’ academic performances and may hinder them from thriving academically or socially. A case study back in 2011 shows, from a group of Chinese international students, 47.5% of students showed symptoms for depression and 48% for anxiety. Keep in mind, the numbers are only expected to rise, and the global average depression rate in comparison is only 20%. (University students are excluded in this research and statistics.) If this was in the United States, comments like these made towards international students or any minority group would be called out harshly. Nonetheless, the Chinese public allows these comments to fly, and many have claimed to be in strong support of this new policy.

The discriminatory nature of this policy is dousing the dreams of many international students who currently reside in China, and it demonstrates the underlying bias against international populations. This is not merely about getting into a university; we are talking about the future and aspirations of many students. No one outside of China seems to be aware of this policy change; it’s hard even to find information about this policy on the internet. Therefore, no one is able to provide help. It is extremely important to raise global awareness about this new policy and the detrimental impact it can bring to those wishing to study in China. We have not found current petitions or donations open for this cause, so we ask everyone to please email to report this policy with this template:

- Eva and Emily


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