New Trend Among China’s Graduate Students
Professor Rao Yi reports surge in quality & quantity of life sciences applicants
The Wall Street Journal reports that Chinese Student Visas to U.S. Tumble From Prepandemic Levels today.
The number of U.S. student visas issued to Chinese nationals plunged by more than 50% in the first half of 2022 compared with pre-Covid levels, with the U.S. losing ground as the most-coveted place for Chinese students to pursue higher education abroad.
Even before the pandemic, Chinese students were shifting their study-abroad sights elsewhere, driven by doubts about whether they would feel welcome in the U.S. and the emergence of more domestic and international alternatives. Travel restrictions and heightened safety concerns during the pandemic accelerated that decline.
In the first six months of 2022, the U.S. issued 31,055 F-1 visas to Chinese nationals, down from 64,261 for the same period in 2019, according to data from the U.S. State Department…
This reminds me of an anecdote shared by Professor Rao Yi, President of Capital Medical University in Beijing, on his influential WeChat blog, popular in China’s science community.
中国研究生的一个新趋势 New Trend Among China’s Graduate Students
In the past four decades, a large number of undergraduates in science, engineering medicine, and agriculture chose to go abroad for graduate studies and post-doctoral research.
When I returned to China full-time in 2007, the candidates for graduate students at Peking University were not good enough. The School of Life Sciences had vacancies for 28 postdocs a year, but couldn’t fill them. That’s because nearly 100% of life science PhDs went abroad.
China's policy for postdocs is exceptionally good. For example, the children of PKU postdocs can attend PKU elementary and middle schools [Pekingnology: that’s a huge benefit, as the enrollments are coveted], but at that time not many people wanted that.
Professor Wei Wensheng, who had just returned [from Stanford] to the School of Life Sciences of PKU, was just beginning to take graduate students at the time. He complained for two years: how could applicants of such quality be admitted to PKU? How could our lab produce [good] results [with them]?
I answered him: “You and your classmates, all undergraduates from PKU, went to the United States [after obtaining the bachelor’s degree]. And you are now blaming today’s undergraduates?”
In the past 15 years, with the development of China, PKU and other universities made big progress in scientific research. The number and quality of postdocs rose. Now, there is no quota limit for postdocs - they are just limited by the funding of their supervisors.
The most interesting thing is that Donald Trump in the U.S. did good things with bad intentions. He and his gang of bad guys have, from various aspects, restricted Chinese students from going to the US for graduate studies in science, making it impossible for some of the best students to go in the past few years.
A dozen years ago, China established the Chinese Scholarship Council, a foundation for students going abroad, and many universities in the U.S. competed to get CSC to sign separate agreements with them. Several Nobel laureates sought my help to get their schools to sign preferential terms with CSC. And now, the U.S. Embassy actually makes it difficult for the students who receive CSC funding, often denying them visas.
Since COVID-19, some (Chinese) parents worried about their children's safety and suggested that they attend graduate schools in China.
So, in the past two years, suddenly, the number of domestic graduate students has increased in quantity, and the quality has improved even more.
Of course, we cannot simply determine the academic qualifications of each student by where they graduated, but we can estimate the competitiveness of the student body in general by looking at the undergraduate schools statistically.
This year, for the first time since I returned to China, I participated in the admission process of the graduate students. I found it highly competitive.
In the past, it was impossible to persuade one of the top 20 in their class from Xiamen University to go to PKU graduate school.
Now, among the top 20 students from their class in Nankai University, Beijing Normal University and other universities, half are roughly estimated to have applied for graduate school at PKU and Tsinghua University.
[Pekingnology: The assumption is Nankai and Beijing Normal are at least on par with Xiamen.]
So, here is the joke I found out about last week. A student, in the 10th place of some [fairly decent] university, did not qualify for an interview. Upon inquiring, I learned that the top several students of that school had all applied to the same graduate program at PKU, so the student didn’t even pass the initial screening.
Similarly, the qualifications of graduate students at Capital Medical University have improved continously.
Now, Prof. Wei Wensheng often complains about why we had to let go of a very good candidate…
To be fair and balanced, let me quote Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s remarks on the unabating U.S. hospitality to Chinese students. In laying out the Biden administration’s approach to China, Blinken said in May.
One of the most powerful, even magical things about the United States is that we have long been a destination for talented, driven people from every part of the planet. That includes millions of students from China, who have enriched our communities and forged lifelong bonds with Americans. Last year, despite the pandemic, we issued more than 100,000 visas to Chinese students in just four months – our highest rate ever. We’re thrilled that they’ve chosen to study in the United States – we’re lucky to have them.
And we’re lucky when the best global talent not only studies here but stays here – as more than 80 percent of Chinese students who pursue science and technology PhDs in the United States have done in recent years. They help drive innovation here at home, and that benefits all of us. We can stay vigilant about our national security without closing our doors.
This reminds me of a letter in May by nearly 50 senior U.S. national security officials from across the aisle to Congressional leaders, calling for the law to
retain "provision (80303) exempting from green card caps those with advanced STEM degrees"
The provision, as explained by the Times of India.
provided for an unlimited number of green cards to be issued to foreign citizens who have earned a doctoral degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) from a US institute of higher learning or an equivalent degree from a foreign university. Spouses and children were covered under this green card program.
The dire immigration situation facing Chinese and Indian STEM graduates seeking permanent residency in the U.S. is, as Bloomberg described in June.
Employment-based green cards are capped at 140,000 each year, not counting unused visas that are rolled over from the family-based category. The number of pending employment-based green cards surpassed 1.4 million last year. Wait times fueled by annual per-country limits mean that thousands of immigrant workers from India and China are stuck in backlogs for decades.
But the chips were ultimately down, as the provision didn’t make it to the bipartisan H.R. 4346, The CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, signed by President Joe Biden on Tuesday, August 9.
Yet China overtook the US in scientific output and “high impact” studies last year, Japan’s Science and Technology Ministry found.
27% of the world’s top research papers were Chinese and 25% were American.
China published 407,000 scientific papers, pulling ahead of the US’s 293,000 and accounting for 23.4% of the world’s research output. SCMP
> So, in the past two years, suddenly, the number of domestic graduate students has increased in quantity, and the quality has improved even more.
Seems like the real test will be in the next 5-10 years, after the COVID situation goes away.
> In the past, it was impossible to persuade one of the top 20 in their class from Xiamen University to *go to* PKU graduate school.
> Now, among the top 20 students from their class in Nankai University, Beijing Normal University and other universities, half are roughly estimated to *have applied for* graduate school at PKU and Tsinghua University.
Applications are up, but does that necessarily mean they will go to the schools? Again, time will tell if this trend of staying domestic continues. It seems inevitable to me that after COVID, more students would again go abroad, but at the same time the quality of students that go to PKU/etc will continue to rise regardless.
Reminds me of how, in 1989 to early '90s, traditionally less-competitive universities got a lot more high-scoring students than usual. This was due to those top students choosing to study at universities closer to home, rather than leaving for higher-ranking schools in Beijing or Shanghai. For example, Pony Ma apparently scored well enough on the gaokao for Tsinghua/PKU/Fudan or something, but went to his local ShenZhen University instead.
However, that trend of staying local and foregoing your place at PKU or Fudan didn't continue, and high-scoring students today would not hesitate to go to Tsinghua or PKU or Fudan over their local universities. This may be the case for studying abroad too, but who knows!