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“Study Buddy” Program for International Students in China Criticized for Deficiency

People in China have been unhappy because the Chinese government has been awarding a substantial number of scholarships to international students from African countries. In July, articles were posted on Weibo alleging that, in 2018, Shandong University developed a study buddy program that connected three local students with each foreign student and they were often of the opposite sex. The matching ratio had been one to one in 2017, but was increased. The posting has drawn wide criticism because of the preferential treatment that foreign exchange students receive in China. On July 7, Shandong University issued a statement stating that its study buddy program is legal and justified. It is in line with the intent of the Ministry of Education to encourage exchanges between Chinese and foreign students.

Based on the study buddy listing posted on Weibo, 47 international students came from Pakistan, Nepal, Yemen, Malaysia, Russia, Afghanistan, Kenya, and other countries. One was from Germany and eight were from South Korea. The list showed that boys were matched with girls, while girls were matched with boys.

During the opening ceremony of the Beijing Summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in 2018, Xi Jinping said that it will provide 50,000 Chinese government scholarships to students from African countries. In addition, China will invite 2,000 African youths to come to China for the exchange program. Due to the continuous increase in the number of scholarships, the number of foreign exchange students has increased by more than 10 percent for two consecutive years. In a video circulating on mainland media in 2018, a female student from the East Timor said that she can not only support herself while studying in China, but also can send extra money back to her family.

A recent discussion on Weibo of the “Study Buddy” program at Shandong University focused on connecting three female students with one foreign male student and resulted in experts in China paying attention to this as a deficiency in the international student program in Chinese universities.

On July 26th, Financial Times published an article titled “How to Make China a More Attractive Destination for Foreign Students.” The article quoted the data from the International Education Association, which stated that foreign exchange students only account for 0.6 percent of college students in China, far lower than the 5.3 percent in the U.S. The article pointed out that the reason for the low enrollment of foreign students is the restrictions on enrollment conditions and the fee structure. Moreover, there is lack of curriculum and teaching resources for international students.

The article said that the Study Buddy system has existed in the US and UK for a while. It assists the foreign students in adapting to university life. It suggested that universities in China study how the program is managed in the U.S. and the UK. It should encourage communication between local and foreign students while preventing the study buddy situation at Shandong University from happening in the future.

Sources: Radio Free Asia, July 12 & August 2, 2019