Estimated to have the largest population of Chinese students on any campus in North America, the University has a specific role in China’s “brain drain.”
The fleeing of human capital from a country or region, brain drain has affected China since the 1970s, when the country began allowing students to study abroad.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released a study in early June that shows 1.06 million Chinese have left to study elsewhere since 1978, but only 275,000 have returned.
Despite the long-term trend, more students have returned to China recently.
As of 2003, 580,000 students had left China since 1978 and 160,000 returned. In the four years since those numbers were released, 115,000 additional Chinese students have returned home.
Jennifer Dunn, coordinator for educational programs and communications at the University’s China Center, said a trend she sees is Chinese students returning to China once they reach their 40s and 50s, after their children have gone to college.
“It’s not like their heart is here,” she said. “When the opportunity is there, they go back to China and build their own career.”
The number of students taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language has also dropped since the late 1990s. The TOEFL is the exam given to Chinese students prior to studying abroad.
According to the China Daily, in the 1980s and 1990s, more than 100,000 Chinese took the TOEFL each year, while in 2003 only 10,000 took the exam.
Snow Bai, biomedical engineering sophomore and co-chair of the Chinese Student Union, said many students intend to take advantage of China’s burgeoning economy.
“Chinese economics is developing very fast, so there will be more business opportunities for us,” she said. “Because the ‘U’ is a really high-ranking American school, with a diploma here, when we get back we can get a really nice job.”
Despite the opportunities in China, Bai said many students plan on finishing school before deciding whether to return to China.
Even during the peak of brain drain, Dunn said students who study abroad can learn ways to contribute at home.
“When you leave your own country, you know where the weakness is and you know how to contribute,” she said.
Dunn also explained that many students will stay in the United States until they reach management levels of employment when the language barrier begins to have an effect.
“Eventually they will bring their own skills, money, whatever and go back to China,” she said. “(They) start their own companies or work with the government or universities; I see that happen a lot.”
Lingtian Kong, plant biology doctorate student and vice president of the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars, said he plans to return to China eventually, but will first finish his doctorate and spend several years gaining experience in the United States.
Despite reports of brain drain, Kong said he was not worried about the future of the Chinese economy.
“China has over a billion people,” he said. “There are many great people with great potential.”
Kong also said he thinks more Chinese students have been returning to China.
“As far as I know from discussion with friends, I think there’s a trend that more and more Chinese students tend to come back to China,” he said.