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HomeEducationThe Declining Value of a Chinese Education in Kyrgyzstan – The Diplomat

The Declining Value of a Chinese Education in Kyrgyzstan – The Diplomat

Exposing the consequences of severe COVID-19 restrictions. hundreds of demonstrations flared up across China late last month. The social unrest is primarily evidence of the dissatisfaction of the younger Chinese generation with the existing authoritarian regime. Repeatedly imposed lockdowns led to higher youth unemployment, leading to considerable uncertainty about the future prospects.

Similar concerns about job prospects also plague Kyrgyz graduates with Chinese degrees. At the end of August 2022, the Chinese Embassy in Kyrgyzstan announced that it would resume issuance Visa for students following a lengthy halt due to quarantine restrictions on entry to China. This was followed by an announcement that the Pursuing the Chinese Dream Scholarship Program would be accepting applications from outstanding Kyrgyz high school students for the opportunity to complete undergraduate studies at a Chinese university.

A fully funded Chinese education is a very attractive opportunity for Kyrgyz working-class families. However, conversations with the growing community of Chinese-educated Kyrgyz show that opportunities to study in China do not necessarily lead to future success. Instead of seeking opportunities to weather China’s economic boom, Kyrgyzstan needs to retrain.

After being politically isolated for decades, China has become one of the most popular countries destinations for international students in the past decade. The Chinese government encouraged this by offering lavish scholarship programs to attract foreign students. Kyrgyz students, who were given the opportunity to get education at top universities in China through available scholarships, lower admission standards and affordable visa fees, were no exception to this trend. For them, the appeal of learning the Chinese language and building a connection with the world’s second largest economy – one with which their country shares a border – is appealing.

The number of Kyrgyz students enrolled in Chinese universities between 2000-2017 more than 22,000 of 4.00 registered in 2020 alone to receive education at Chinese institutions of higher education. In comparison, the EU program Erasmus+ was supported 800 Kyrgyz students between 2015-2020. Russia, meanwhile, remains the top destination for Kyrgyz students to study abroad, with over 15,000 enrolled 2020.

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Kyrgyz students who have studied in China often return home as “zhongguo tong” (中国通), a Chinese term given to foreigners and often translated as “Chinese hand”, in varying degrees by taking a Chinese language program and earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree. , or even Ph.D. degrees. Graduates of Chinese institutions (like graduates elsewhere) nostalgically reminisce about their experiences in China. Whether they have studied in Shanghai, Beijing, Urumqi, Lanzhou, Xi’an, Guangzhou or Haikou, these alumni share that they are energized by China’s higher quality educational environment compared to their experiences in Kyrgyzstan as they connect with students from all over the world. and travel through China.

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Graduates I spoke to in the course of my research said that being introduced to Chinese culture and traditions in China itself made it easier to master the language. And moreover, taking classes together with representatives of different countries and communities, according to graduates, contributed to breaking negative stereotypes that they previously believed. For example, some spoke about the first time they came into contact with the LGBT community.

“In China, we have had great foreign education experience as part of a diverse international community,” someone told me. Overall, these graduates were positive about their exposure to a more socially diverse environment than at home.

Most of these graduates had certain expectations about the impact of getting an education in China, from learning the language to increasing their chances in the job market to facilitating careers in public affairs and diplomacy. In reality, they faced a number of challenges and obstacles in seeking promising, well-paying positions after returning home.

After studying in China, many thought they would be in demand for interpreting positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese embassy or as a lecturer at universities. “In reality, however, there turned out to be a lot of paperwork and no competitive wages,” said an International Education graduate from a Shanghai university who recently retrained as a UI/UX designer in Bishkek after quitting his job. in a China-related field.

Although Kyrgyzstan is in a fragile economic position with an average monthly salary of 23,939 Kyrgyz som ($282) — 28,981 Kyrgyz som ($341) in Bishkek — There are more and more job opportunities with a better salary in different international organizations, large companies and the IT sector. These are currently the most attractive jobs, but graduates from Chinese universities are in most cases unable to compete for these positions.

A language program graduate of a school in Xi’an, who used to work as a Russian-Chinese interpreter, said: “She [referring to specialists with Chinese education] usually work as translators or run businesses: they import Chinese goods or work for the local Chinese companies. Both Kyrgyzstan and China simply train specialists with knowledge of the Chinese language, but without in-depth knowledge of the Chinese context, thus sinologists to be able to work in the field of public service or diplomacy.”

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The qualifications offered by Chinese institutions often focus on language without necessarily considering cultural context or any other technical qualification, which would help graduates pursue a position beyond interpreting.

In addition, business alumni from Beijing and Shanghai, who enjoyed their experience as foreign students, found it annoying that they received a simplified study curriculum, especially for foreigners, compared to similar classes they had taken with Chinese students. This was no exception. All Chinese programs offer different classes for foreign versus domestic students. And the quality is strikingly different.

“If you compare Chinese students with us [foreign students], then we were belittled somehow. They wouldn’t give us the same information that was given to Chinese students,” explains one graduate.

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A financial engineering and applied mathematics graduate remembers the first year of his Bachelor of Science program studying together with Chinese students as a unique case. In the Chinese education system, local Chinese and foreign students usually attend separate classes. Considering the different quality of the curriculum, he believed that the joint classes were beneficial to him as a foreign student.

Chinese degrees, or more so, the experience of living in China have certainly increased the appeal of these graduates as employees for Chinese companies and schools in filling a teaching role. Most graduates I spoke to mentioned interpreting opportunities circulating among Chinese speakers through mutual connections and WeChat groups, but said the jobs were unstable and underpaid. Teaching jobs may offer stability and professional growth, but with an average monthly starting salary of 9,000 som ($106) in public schools and 30,000 som ($353) in private schools, these graduates hardly feel motivated to hold down such a career.

The China-related business sector – logistics, mining and other industrial companies – is considered the best option for someone with education and living experience in China, with relatively better monthly wages of 30,000-50,000 som ($353-$588) and otherwise professional growth as a product/project manager.

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Apart from the fact that China’s pre-pandemic law prohibiting foreign students from working in mainland China during their studies not only faces a limited choice of desirable jobs but also reduces the competitiveness of Kyrgyz students compared to those who were trained elsewhere abroad or even at home, where they were allowed to study. gain more experience through part-time work and expansion of professional networks during their studies. Contrary to the expectation that they will have an advantage after studying abroad, many of these students find that their resumes after graduation are limited to a program of study with a possible illegal employment history.

“If there is a choice between a candidate with experience without a foreign education and without experience but with a foreign diploma, the choice falls on the former,” explains a graduate.

The Ministry of Education in China awarded foreign students permission not to work 40 hours a month until the end of 2021. While this could positively change the postgraduate experience of the currently enrolled students, most of them still study online and cannot enter China under the zero COVID policy restrictions and due to high travel costs.

Despite the recognition of the importance of soft skills and work experience in obtaining competitive positions, there is also a shared concern about the poor perception of a Chinese degree by local and international organizations outside the China-related field. Driven by financial needs and lack of safe, well-paid job opportunities, many young graduates with little work experience take on various jobs in the service sector, sometimes outside Kyrgyzstan. For example, offering money services to Chinese-speaking clients in the Arabian Gulf has become a new opportunity in Kyrgyz job sites. These jobs are often viewed as a temporary income opportunity, while alternative expertise training is also considered over time. Many Kyrgyz graduates with a Chinese degree have faced such challenges and feel that their degree is of no use in Kyrgyzstan.

China’s closed borders — a product of its zero-COVID policy — caused a decline in trade and cultural exchange between China and Kyrgyzstan, and also undermined China’s attractiveness as an educational destination. China’s soft power push in Kyrgyzstan fails. While studying in China was once seen as a ticket to self-development and a successful career, free Chinese education is not all that many young Kyrgyz thought it would be.

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