American Universities Are Losing Chinese Students To Rivals: US-China Business Forum

Growth in the number of Chinese students attending American universities has been helpful to domestic students and benefited the US economy. About a third of the more than one million international students in the US are from China, and collectively, their contributions to the American economy represent around $15 billion per year in export earnings.

And although the American universities remain among the world’s best, the appeal of US schools among the group is declining, according to John Quelch, dean of the University of Miami Herbert Business School and long-time business education leader in both the US and China.

“What we’re seeing at the moment is softness in the enthusiasm of Chinese students and their parents to enroll in US institutions,” Quelch said in an interview on the sidelines of the US-China Business Forum held at Forbes on Fifth in New York on Tuesday.

“Over the last decade, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and other European countries have increased their efforts to attract Chinese students,” he said. “And in many cases, they’ve been very successful at the expense of the US which has not necessarily been as hospitable in terms of visa processing, access and other logistics related elements that go into the equation as to where an international student is going to study.”

Although “still a very important part of the US higher educational system, Chinese students are in many cases now having second thoughts about whether or not they have to come to the US versus going to one of these other countries,” said Quelch, the author , co-author or editor of 25 books over his career.

Besides tougher competition and red tape from the US, “there are short-term headwinds such as the strength of the US dollar, which is obviously making it more attractive to potentially go to countries in Europe rather than in the US,” he said.

Strained geopolitics between the US and China isn’t helping, either. “I don’t want to necessarily overexaggerate how the political relationship between China and the US is contributing to this, but I do think that there is an element of that the relationship between the two nations has deteriorated. And that deterioration is definitely playing some role in the lower level of enthusiasm” for American schools, Quelch said.

Although some critics have questions why American schools should open their doors to China – a rival, Quelch said cultural exchange benefits students and the US overall.

“From a cross-cultural exchange point of view — but also as an assurance of long-term mutual understanding — it’s extremely important that young people have these international experiences. In the end, they do develop a level of understanding and appreciation for other cultures that is a guarantor of long-term peace and prosperity internationally.”

The University of Miami Herbert Business School has a longstanding and strong relationship with China, especially with respect to a graduate student enrollment in business and finance, he said. The school is close to Miami, offering a safe campus yet a multi-cultural experience, he said. And yet, he said, “this year we have seen some softness in the overall level of applications and indeed enrollments.”

Prior to joining the Miami Herbert Business School in 2017, Quelch was a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. Quelch was previously dean, vice president and distinguished professor of international management of the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai from 2011 to 2013. Quelch has also been dean of the London Business School.

One thing that isn’t helping Florida universities in particular is criticism of some Chinese property purchases in that state by Governor Ron DeSantis. Chinese parents in many cases buy property in the city where their child attends school.

DeSantis last month singled out concerns about property purchases by Chinese companies with links to the Communist Party that aren’t “always apparent on the face of whatever a company is doing, but I think it’s a huge problem.”

“We’re quite concerned about the stance that would make Florida a less hospitable place for any international student or any international investor, Quelch said. “Discriminating on the basis of country of origin strikes me as being a very dangerous, slippery slope on which to embark.”

The 4th The US-China Business Forum, held at Forbes on Fifth in New York, was organized by Forbes China, the Chinese-language edition of Forbes. The gathering was held in person for the first time since 2019; it was held online in 2020 and 2021 during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic.

Other speakers included China Ambassador to the US Qin Gang; Wei Hu, Chairman, China General Chamber of Commerce – USA; James Shih, Vice President, SEMCORP; Abby Li, Director of Corporate Communication and Research, China General Chamber of Commerce; Audrey Li, Managing Director, BYD America; Lu Cao, Managing Director, Global Corporate Bank, Corporate & Investment Bank, JP Morgan.

Also speaking were Stephen A. Orlins, President, The National Committee on United States-China Relations; Sean Stein, chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce; Ken Jarrett, Senior Advisor, Albright Stonebridge Group; dr. Bob Li, Physician Ambassador to China and Asia-Pacific, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; and Yue-Sai Kan, Co-Chair, China Institute.

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