China attracts more students from B&R countries
Bigyan Neupane is busy completing experiments and working on his thesis so that he can graduate this summer.
The Nepalese international student is currently studying for a PhD at Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Thanks to a scholarship from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Neupane has been able to focus on his research and studies in China without financial worries.
Neupane is part of a growing trend. In recent years, more students from the Belt and Road (B&R) countries are coming to China to undertake higher education.
According to a report published by the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), a major Chinese think tank, China had about 443,000 foreign students in 2016, and 207,746 of them were from the B&R countries.
Of the top 15 source countries, 10 were along the B&R routes, said the CCG report.
Back in 2004, China had only 24,896 foreign students from the B&R countries.
The changes were made possible by China's increasing efforts to strengthen ties with the B&R countries, especially in the field of education.
China has set up a series of scholarship programs for international students to study at its universities.
The Chinese Government Scholarships program, run by the China Scholarship Council, covers a total of 289 universities. Since it's launch, more than 60 percent of applicants have come from the B&R countries.
In 2016, the Beijing municipal government set up a scholarship program for international students from the B&R countries to study in the city. A total of 298 students were offered scholarships by 23 Beijing-based universities that year.
Provincial-level regions such as Gansu, Hubei and Chongqing are also setting up similar programs.
In July 2016, the Ministry of Education issued a set of guidelines to promote education cooperation with the B&R countries. The aim, according to the ministry statement, was to "promote people-to-people connectivity, cultivate talent for the Belt and Road Initiative, and to achieve shared development."
The guideline also called on local governments and social organizations to step up efforts.
"Many students from my country have come to China to study in recent years," said Egidio da Costa from East Timor.
Da Costa completed his bachelor's degree at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology (BUCT) in 2015. He went on to study for a master's degree at Beijing-based University of International Business and Economics.
After graduation, da Costa went back to work in East Timor, but his bond with China has continued.
He regularly shares news about China and Chinese songs on social network platforms. His WeChat ID is still his Chinese name followed by his student number from BUCT.
In November 2017, da Costa returned to Beijing to attend the First Silk Road NGO Cooperation Network Forum, an event aimed at enhancing exchanges and cooperation among people of the Silk Road countries and facilitating people-to-people connectivity.
In March 2017, the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs, together with three Chinese ministries, issued a circular on establishing a nationwide system to grant easier approval for foreigners to work in China.
"The policy is a good news for international students studying in China," said Neupane. "I'm looking forward to working here."
As for da Costa, he is planning to return to China to study for a PhD next year. He said he wants to study business and then teach at his university after graduating.
"China is my second home. I'm eager to return," he said.