China: Is foreign study worth it?

By Wu Wenjing

Beita Yang, who had studied in New York for about eight years, works for a securities firm in Shenzhen.

Yang spent around $600,000 for her studies in the United States. She was determined to stay in America after her graduation. However, she found that although she had a master’s degree in America, it was hard for her to find a good job there. She had to come back to China for work and earns around $1,500 per month.

“My job is not easy. I have to work overtime every workday, and the boss often asks me to go on business to other countries. It is not worth it to study abroad. I regret it,” Yang said.

Is it worth spending time and money to study abroad?

According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2015, there are more than 50 million students receiving education outsides their home countries, increasing by 67 percent compared with a decade ago. Especially, there were 12.6 million Chinese students abroad in 2015, which is 25 percent of the number of study-abroad students all over the world.

As promotional material from overseas education institutions show, the cost of on receiving education in the United Kingdom, America, Australia, and other major industrial countries is much more than studying in Chinese universities.

“The cost is a big deal to most overseas students. I didn’t think about my coming back when I decided to go to America,” Yang said.

Based on data in the annual report on the development of Chinese students studying abroad in 2016, the number of returnees (409,100) has been steadily growing.

Ken Sun, who studied abroad for six years and majored in accounting at Baruch College of City University of New York, is a manager in Guangzhou.

“I had to come back. My family is here, and it is hard for me to find a proper job in America. The competition in New York is stiff,” Sun said.

Compared to mainland graduates, most of the overseas returnees have strengths, such as better language competence and communication skills. However, most of the overseas returnees expect to work in first-tier cities in China, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Around 30 percent of them majored in business and economics.

With more and more students studying abroad and then returning to China, the competition among them is increasingly fierce, and their overseas advantage is dwindling, especially with respect to wages.

“My expected wage was $2,700 a month, but now I get $1,200. The consumption level in such a first-tier city is high, and it will take me a long time to earn the overseas study expense back,” Sun added.

Some research shows that the high cost of studying abroad does not bring about significantly better employment. The Annual Report on the Development of Chinese Students Studying Abroad in 2015 pointed out that nearly 90 percent undergraduates who returned to China are paid less than $1,500 per month.

Winnie Fan, an office clerk in Guangzhou, was a visiting student in the United States for three years. She did not receive a diploma but has one from Guangdong University of Finance and Economics in China. Her wage is around $750 a month.

“I was determined to work in China. And I found it better to graduate from a Chinese university than from one in the US. I came back and received an education in China so that I can keep my relationships with my Chinese friends and be familiar with the domestic employment environment,” Fan said.

As Fan mentioned, there are many disadvantages on employment for some returnees. Based on statistics from Research on Chinese Returnees’ Employment and Entrepreneurship in 2015, which was carried out by CCG and Highpin, the lack of familiarity with the Chinese employment environment and the demands of domestic businesses enterprises are the main problems for overseas students.

About half of the respondents complain that they have a weak social relationship network, and 26.7 percent think that it is easy to miss the recruitment season in China, which happens in June. Compared to graduates from domestic elite schools, around 30 percent of returnees consider that they are not outstanding with respect to specific knowledge and skills.

“I feel no regret that I had spent much money on studying abroad and my wage is as much as a typical mainland graduate. Actually, to some extent, how much they are paid depends on the overseas diploma. For example, my sister’s wage level is much higher than mine,” Fan said.

Fan’s sister Chloe is an analyst in Shenzhen, where she earns $4,700 a month. She has a diploma from the University of Buffalo, and her major was accounting.

“Compared to Winnie, my English is better, in addition to my degree, I think that’s why I can find a better job. Finding a high-paying job not only depends on our graduate certificate but also on abilities,” Chloe said.

According to the report of Research on Chinese Returnees’ Employment and Entrepreneurship in 2015, the chief abilities developed by studying abroad are international perspectives (78.7 percent), foreign language (78.3 percent), independent thinking (71.3 percent), and life adaptation (68.9 percent). Besides, the development of specific knowledge and skills, and interpersonal communication are mentioned by more than half of the respondents.

Winnie also mentioned that overseas study could be worthwhile if the students developed themselves. “Those who just want to escape domestic life but have no aim and pursuit in foreign countries obviously waste their money and time.”

Liang Weiyuan, a human resources manager in Guangzhou Fuyuan Biotechnology Co., Ltd, said that many mainland companies give priority to returnees when they recruit new staff. On the one hand, companies pay more attention to interviewees’ abilities, and many overseas students have better language competence and broader horizons. On the other hand, they worry that many returnees are proud and arrogant or demand higher wages when they apply for jobs.

“It’s hard to say whether it is worthwhile for all the returnees,” Yang said with a smile when she recalled the life in the United States, “For me, I made lots of friends and was exposed to many cultures there.”


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