Sagging numbers of incoming international tourists is not the end of the story for Beijing: international university students are beginning to avoid Beijing as well.

According to figures released last week by China's Ministry of Education, Beijing's international university student population dropped by 4 percent, virtually the only location in China that has seen a drop in students over the same period. 

In fact, overall international student numbers across China increased by 48,724, or almost 15 percent, between 2012 and 2014. Data for 2013 was not available.

Beijing, however, still remains the top destination for international students with 74,342 enrolled during 2014, while Shanghai is second with 55,911, and Tianjin a distant third with 25,720 students.

Beijing's 2014 student figures are 3,364 fewer than 2012. In sharp contrast, student populations in Jiangsu, Liaoning and Shangdong have seen increases of 4,000+ each, while overall number of foreign students nationwide grew from 328,330 to 377,054.

According to the report, 44 percent of all international students in China are degree-seeking, with the rest enrolled in non-degree programs or studying part time. If we presume Beijing reflects this trend (specific figures for Beijing were not released), that implies the city had about 32,700 degree-seeking students and 41,600 others in 2014.

The data indicates that international students are now opting for second- and third-tier cities instead of Beijing, the country’s long-standing center of higher education and home to the largest number of universities.

The "expat bubble" was cited as one of the primary reasons for students to stay away from Beijing. In an interview with Global Times, a 22-year-old Italian named Denise was quoted as saying that she opted for Kunming because “she can spend more time to practice Chinese there”.

“Most Chinese people in big cities are already used to seeing foreigners and have been to other countries themselves, so they are not curious to communicate with me compared to people in smaller cities,” Denise was quoted as saying.

However, while Beijing's English level is indeed higher than most cities in China, we call bullshit on that as the primary reason for student flight from Beijing: also high on the list of reasons to avoid Beijing are its international reputation for air pollution; overcrowding and skyrocketing living costs.

In terms of national origin, Korea is at the top, representing 17 percent of the total foreign student population. That's more than three times the students of the next largest national student bodies, those of the US (6.4 percent), Thailand (5.6 percent) and Russia (4.6 percent).

Though no Oceanic or African nations are in the top 15, these two regions represent the largest growth in students over the past two years. Student enrollment from Oceania (Australia, New Zealand and surrounding countries) grew by 32 percent, with African enrollment increasing by 25 percent.

The Global Times report also indicated that local governments in second and third tier cities have been leading the charge on providing more scholarships to international students. For instance, reports show that since 2010, the provincial government of Jiangsu has set aside RMB 15 million ($2.42 million) each year for a scholarship fund targeting international students.

However, with all that being said, hold on a minute before packing your stuff and leaving. There are always pros and cons. Living in a smaller city can still be inconvenient sometimes. It’s not fun when you can’t find a doctor who can't speak your native tongue, and in some cases dialects and accents different from standard Mandarin can be an issue.

What’s more important is Beijing offers much more job opportunities than smaller cities. Not to mention the pathetically unfashionable nightlife in smaller Chinese cities.

Image: Chinagate

Visit the original source and full text: the Beijinger Blog