Trade war: How reliant are US colleges on Chinese students?

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Chinese studentsImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Increasing numbers of Chinese students attend US colleges

The United States is the number one destination for Chinese students seeking to study abroad.

They make up one-third of the total international body in the US and pay significant sums to study at top institutions.

However, there is growing pressure in the US to place restrictions on foreign students, particularly Chinese, amid tensions between the two countries over a range of issues, most prominently trade.

China has suggested students travelling to the United States may face heightened risks.

Rising tensions

The US government has been targeting specific groups of students or academics who they feel pose national security risks or are involved in alleged intellectual property theft.

Last year, the US State Department shortened visas for Chinese students studying some courses, over fears of spying and intellectual property theft.

Republican members of Congress are also introducing legislation to ban anyone sponsored or employed by the Chinese military from receiving student or research visas.

For its part, China last week issued an unprecedented warning to its students and academics, urging them to "raise their risk assessment" following an increase in delays and visa rejections for study in the US.

Analysts suggest China wants to discourage students from studying in the US to increase pressure, as part of the growing trade war.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Tsinghua University in Beijing - China is looking to promote its own institutions

The rejection rate of students seeking to study in the US this year on Chinese government scholarships was 13.5% in the first quarter of 2019, according to official Chinese statistics. That compares with 3.2% in 2018.

It's a significant rise, but covers only a fraction of the total number of Chinese students who go to America.

Chinese students enrolled in the US. .  .

Over the past decade the number of Chinese students enrolled in US colleges has more than trebled.

In the 2017-18 academic year, there were 360,000 Chinese students enrolled in the US to take up courses.

This has made them an important source of revenue for American academic institutions.

On the whole, most private universities will not charge extra for international students, but there might be added fees for administrative costs.

At public universities run by state governments, foreign students will typically pay the same as American students who are from out of state.

Overall, international students contributed 28% of all tuition fees to public universities in 2015, according to Deserve, a company providing financial services to students.

And with around one-third of these foreign students coming from China, that's a sizeable proportion of revenue generated from this source.

The amount Chinese students and their families contribute to the US economy continues to rise. This is estimated to have been $13 billion in 2017-2018, a figure that includes tuition fees and living expenses, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators.

Chinese students' contribution to the US economy . ($bn).  .

Studying in the US remains a highly attractive option for Chinese students.

"There is a perception among Chinese parents that the education system isn't as good as elsewhere", says Mary Gallagher, director at the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies at the University of Michigan.

By way of comparison, the number of American students travelling to China to study is small, with just under 12,000 enrolling in 2017-2018.