Over the past decade, the number of people with some form of college education in China has jumped 147%, according to the National Bureau of Statistics, which revealed in its 2010 Census results that 8,930 people out of every 100,000 Chinese people has attended university. Over the same period, those completing high school grew by 26%. China’s leaders are quick to tout the country’s educational figures, which seem to point to impressive improvement in recent years. Yet other numbers tell a different story about China’s schools. Of the 56 yuan billionaires under the age of 40 identified in a new report on China’s young and wealthy released by Hurun over the weekend, half were educated in the U.S. or Europe. And four out of five of them said they would consider sending their children overseas for better education.
Last year, 128,000 Chinese students went to the U.S., making China the country with the highest number of overseas pupils in American universities, according to a 2010 report from the Institute of International Education. The number of Chinese undergraduates in the U.S. climbed 50% to 40,000, more than four times the 2005 number. One reason for the mass exodus is that wealth is climbing in China, making overseas education more attainable for many.
Yet money hasn’t been the only reason parents have sought schooling beyond China’s borders. While on the surface, China is undergoing a secondary education boom, the country’s education system has long struggled with what critics say is a dangerous reliance on rote memorization and rigid testing. More and more Chinese people may be collecting degrees, the critics say, but they are not being trained in analytical and creative thinking. Education in China also routinely suffers from funding shortages, disparities between urban and rural regions, and limitations for children of migrant laborers. The quality of Chinese schools isn’t only a problem for the elite. With the country hoping to overhaul its industrial landscape and move in to high-tech production, many companies say they face a looming shortage of skilled labor. And that will likely worsen as analysts predict a decrease in the labor force in the next year or two due to a rise in the aging population.