The educational decoupling between China and the United State

Before the US-Iran tension, China seemed to be the number one enemy for the US. However the stock market goes up and down with news mostly about the trade war or technology (Huawei). There was a lot of talk about the decoupling of the two countries. Few talk about the wedge that these conflicts are putting in educational exchange and collaborations. 

US universities are increasingly closing Confucius Institutes which offer non-credit courses in Chinese language and culture to US students. Universities and research institutes are also firing scholars of Chinese descent due to conflict of interest concerns, especially for scholars hired through China’s Thousand-Talent program. Some cases were dismissed later on, but these scholars’ careers are ruined. Universities are also becoming more cautious inviting Chinese scholars to their institutions due to escalating tension between the two countries.  

In the meantime, media outlets such as Inside Higher Ed (IHE) is becoming a Pillbox constantly firing anti-Chinese sentiments to influence opinions of the higher-ed audiences. As one frustrated researcher wrote to Inside Higher Ed, IHE often publishes one-sided disturbing reports on China to fan the flame of sino-phobia. If you do not believe it, just search “China” from the Inside Higher Ed site. You would have thought that media dedicated to higher education would be more open-minded towards the internationalization of education. 

Conveniently, China and US are developing a rare consensus that the two should go separate ways in terms of education. China, too, wants its educational system to be more isolated.  To the Chinese government, this is a golden opportunity to reassert traditional Chinese identity and socialist ideology. Inside Higher Ed, I hope this makes you happy. 

In 2015, Chinese Minister of Education Yuan Guiren told university administrators that they should be careful using original textbooks from the west so that “we will never let western values and ideas enter our classroom.”  (See New York Times article on the topic). On Jan 7, 2020, China’s Ministry of Education posted a regulation about textbook management that says: “No foreign textbook should be used by schools during the mandatory education years [note: Kindergarten through ninth grade], and related laws and regulations should govern the adoption of foreign textbooks at the high school level.” 

In the meantime, joint programs are also taking a hit. In the middle of July, 2018 China’s Ministry of Education closed around 235 programs between Chinese colleges and universities and their international counterparts. Some of these were programs sponsored by key Project 985 universities, including Beijing University, Fudan University and Sichuan University. For the complete list, see the announcements provided by the Ministry here.

One result: less educational exchange, including Chinese students studying in the US. According to the 2019 Enrollment Survey by Institute of International Education (IIE), the recruitment of international students in the US is on the decrease (0.9%) , especially in the midwest and southern regions. One main reason for such decline is the increasing difficulty of getting a visa. This applies especially to Chinese students studying STEM subjects in the US. Even for students who have obtained visas previously, there are cases of them being checked or suspended, which adds on to the anxiety of potential students. Due to visa complications, China even issued a travel warning in 2019. Chinese students diversify into other countries such as the UK and Australia.

It certainly makes a lot of people happy that this decoupling is going on. I find it a great leap backward. What do you think?



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