Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Many Africans are Studying in China?

In recent years, I've been pleased to see a lot of African students attending conferences and workshops on China-Africa topics in Beijing and Shanghai. Now I think that the turnout has actually been quite low, if a report by Antoaneta Becker is correct:
"In recent years the Chinese government has encouraged more African students to study in the country, offering thousands of scholarships. In 2009 China had 120,000 students from Africa, ten times more than it did in 2000." 
I'm willing to bet that this number, 120,000 is wrong. The late (and much missed) Professor Li Baoping estimated in a 2006 paper that more than 18,000 African students had at that point received scholarships over the decades from the Chinese government. Hong Kong University expert on Africans in China, Professor Adams Bodomo, estimated in a recent paper that 12,000 African students were currently studying in China under government scholarship, with perhaps 8000 more studying under their own funding.  

Here are the official numbers. Do the math.

           Year        Number of Africa Scholarships/Year
            1983         400
            1986       1600
            2005       2000
            2009       4000
            2012*     5500

*Pledged at the Sharm el-Sheikh FOCAC Meeting, November 2009.  Sources for others are in my book, The Dragon's Gift, p. 121.


  1. I remember when I first arrived in Beijing to study at Tsinghua University in 2007. Back then South Africa as well as Tsinghua had a very difficult time trying to full its quota of scholarships to study in China from the Chinese government. South Africa had around 10 or 20 a year to full and could not meet it and Tsinghua had about 60 (I got the latter figure from a conversation with the head of the foreign students office n 2008).

    Now it has become quite difficult to get those same 10 or 20 scholarships offered to South Africans and Tsinghua has fulled its quota. I am not so sure when the change happened in South Africa, you would have to talk to the folks at Stellenbosch for info on that, but in Tsinghua the change happened when he School of Public Policy and Management initiated a one year long post graduate course (International Public Administration) in 2008 primarily targeted towards African government officials. For them to come to Beijing and study at Tsinghua for a year. That along with the masters in international journalism degree that they started also in 2008 has managed to pull in an extra sixty or so extra students from Africa. Of course these are only estimates, for an accurate figure one would have to go to the foreign students office and get the information there. Additionaly it is only for one university in China.

    However the fact remains that with a space of only a few years, from 2007 to 2009, the African student population at this university dramatically increased because of an increase in post-graduate courses taught in English and supplied with students from African governments.

  2. Deborah, they must have just added one zero to the estimate by Bodomo! It's happened for other dodgy figures, right?

  3. On the website of the Chinese govt Ministry of Education (in Chinese) they now have the following statistics:
    No of African students in 2006: 3737
    No of African students in 2009: 12436

    So my guessestimation of 12000 was very close. I have a new set of estimates for 2011 on a recent paper I read at this site: http://www0.hku.hk/cerc/Seminars/African_Students_in_ChinaChongqing.pdf

    Adams Bodomo

  4. Thanks Adams for the update, and, as always, for your insightful work on this topic.

  5. This captures well the sentiments of some of the African students studying in China. For 30 year old Lethola Mafisa from Lesotho who has completed a one year Masters degree in Public Administration at Tsinghua – one of the country’s top universities – the deep sense of scholarship evident in his Chinese professors has impressed him. “These professors are very much into knowledge and skill generation,” Mafisa said, “The curriculum is good and value adding, I admire that.”

  6. According to Chinese Scholarship Council Annual report 2010, there are 5,710 African Students studying in China under Chinese scholarship in 2010, this accounts to 25.5% of total Chinese government scholarship awarded to all international students in that year(22,390).

    1. Thanks for your addition, Ke Yu. We seem to be dealing with two different figures. Perhaps one is the annual figure of scholarships awarded to Africans in a year, the other is the total number of Africans studying under a Chinese government scholarship. If 20 scholarships are offered annually to each of the 50 African countries with which China has diplomatic ties, as in the South Africa example above, that would be only 1000 per year. To get to 5000 per year, there would have to be 100 scholarships on average, per country, per year. Are the numbers that high?