The number of Chinese people studying abroad and returning from overseas universities reached a record high last year, according to official figures released yesterday.
More than 144,000 students went abroad last year, up 8 percent on 2006. By the end of last year, 44,000 overseas students returned home, up 5 percent year-on-year, Ministry of Education statistics show.
Of the students who studied abroad, about 90 percent were self-funded. The government sent more than 8,800 to study overseas last year, up 59 percent on 2006, the figures said.
Since 1978, more than 1.2 million Chinese have studied abroad.
The number of returned overseas students has been steadily growing since 2003 to 166,000 - 52 percent of the returned students in the past three decades.
"This is a very good trend," director of the overseas study center under the Ministry of Education Shao Wei said.
"More students choose to study abroad to develop professional skills."
The center found more than 70 percent of the 70,000 students who returned to China in the past three years had earned master's degrees. It also found 47 percent of these returned students majored in humanities and social sciences, while about 45 percent studied engineering.
However, less than 5 percent chose natural sciences, 2 percent pursued medicine and 0.4 percent studied agriculture.
"Our country is lacking innovation in these areas," Shao said. "Students should heed their country's needs."
The number of Chinese who study abroad is expected to grow again this year due to the availability of scholarships, loosening of visa restrictions and better job opportunities for graduates, Li Yuntao, a counselor of study abroad agency Beijing Chivast Education International, said.