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Why more African students choose Chinese universities

By Adhere Cavince | | Updated: 2019-09-18 17:41

On Friday, Sept 6 I arrived at Central China Normal University to begin my doctoral degree studies in international relations. I was among the over 200 Kenyans who had received Chinese government scholarships to pursue higher education in different academic fields in China.

While speaking earlier on behalf of the beneficiaries during the reception ceremony at the Chinese Embassy in Kenya, I was struck by the sheer number, energy and curiosity of the students. This view was dramatically reinforced when we arrived at the university. Over 300 students from 80 countries thronged the science hall for the welcome address. Data from the university indicates that a total of 2,200 foreign students are currently enrolled at the university, making it one of the most international institutions in Central China's Hubei province.

According to China's State Council, Beijing received the first batch of 33 foreign students from Eastern European countries in 1950. This number of international students would astronomically rise to hit 407,000 from 160 countries at the turn of the century.

Closely tied to China's reform and opening up policy of 1978, internationalization of the country's higher education sector has tremendously hoisted its academic, technological and innovation capacity. This has created a strong pool for African students, who now prefer China to other countries for higher education.

Fundamentally, China has leveraged its research and academic institutions in its rejuvenation agenda. The resulting knowledge, innovations and technologies have immensely contributed to China's economic rise, poverty alleviation and global prestige.

These factors have created incentives for individuals, corporations and countries to learn from the Chinese experience in the search for sustainable solutions to the many socio-economic challenges in different parts of the world.

In his goodwill message, Tom Amolo, the political and diplomatic secretary of Kenya's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, urged the 2019 Chinese scholarship beneficiaries to prioritize learning in order to be effective agents and contributors to Kenya's development aspirations upon their return.

China has been a longtime ally of Kenya in people-to-people exchanges and development. From 1982, nearly three decades before China became Kenya's largest trading partner, and construction and development projects financier, Beijing was already supporting human capacity development through targeted scholarships. Today, more than 2,400 Kenyans are studying in China.

Chinese enterprises operating in Kenya are estimated at 400 and have equally been actively engaged in knowledge and technology transfer to the locals, besides providing sources of income. A 2017 McKinsey survey into the operations of 1,000 Chinese enterprises in Africa revealed that two of every three African employees in Chinese enterprises had received skills upgrading.

As China and Kenya continue to work closely towards the actualization of the Belt and Road Initiative, I hope that additional opportunities for skills and knowledge transfer will arise to benefit more Kenyans.

With formal registration for my studies now behind me; it is time to get down to business and give this lifetime opportunity the deserved meaning. I hope to decode the academic, technological and cultural nuances that make China the new knowledge capital of the world. And while I'm at it, I hope to leverage the time at Central China Normal University to develop useful linkages with Chinese nationals, as well as students drawn from other countries.

The world has increasingly been flattened by technology into a tiny village. While this has enhanced the diffusion of ideas, technologies, products and services, it has also created new challenges, like the raging trade dispute between China and the United States. Such frictions carry significant implications for all countries, Kenya included.

It is for this reason that I am more than proud to study international relations at this point and in a renowned Chinese university.

Adhere Cavince is a PhD student in international relations at Central China Normal University.

Twitter: @Cavinceworld.

WeChat: Cavinceworld.

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