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China Increasingly Suffering from Student Brain Drain

Chinese students who go abroad to attend university increasingly choose to stay overseas. Chinese state media say the country faces a brain drain as it has the highest ratio of students not returning to their home country.

Ministry of Public Security statistics show that two-thirds of the nearly one million Chinese students who have gone abroad to study since the 1980's have not returned home. The government says that ratio is higher than any other country.

David Zweig is director of the Center on China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He says the higher standard of living and better career opportunities available abroad are more appealing to students than fighting the competition back home.

"The people who don't come back, don't come back in part because they feel they can't get a good job," he said. "So it's up to China to expand its educational opportunities or teaching opportunities or research jobs, so these people will feel it's worthwhile to come back and can get a good job."

Zweig says countries such Canada and Australia, which accept large numbers of Chinese students, also make it relatively easy for Chinese university graduates to stay.

Chinese state media report that more and more Chinese students are heading abroad to study and look for work opportunities. The media say since 2002, more than 100,000 students have gone abroad to study each year, nearly doubling the total number of Chinese students abroad.

But Zweig says more Chinese would return if they concluded that their long-term prospects are better back home after all.

"If China's economy continues to grow, then there are more opportunities within China. In many cases, people will find that they can get promoted to a certain point in the West and that then hit a glass ceiling," said Zweig. "Therefore, they may have better long-term chances in china."

As China continues to integrate into the world economy, experts say the Chinese students who have studied and gained work experience abroad will play an important role, providing essential experience and expertise for the country's its work force.