International student education in China: An "Island" in Internationalization?

This study illustrates the current condition and causes behind international student education (ISE) in China utilizing 107 institutional surveys and 49 semi-structured interviews. While past studies have focused on individual student experiences such as motivation, choice, socio-cultural adaptation, this research concentrates on ISE’s connection with the broader society. It applies the “internationalization in higher education for society” framework to examine the ISE in China from the goals of social justice, economic development, and public goods. Although Chinese higher education is anchored in state and social services, ISE appears to be an “island” within the larger system. The shaping forces behind are instrumentalist values, competing policies, and constrained institutional agency. The findings show dilemmas in institutional practices, disconnection with the local society, and suggestions to contribute to global society. We argue that ISE should be designed and implemented with intention, purpose, and comprehensiveness, undergirded by a strengthened institutional agency to serve society. China’s case provides practical implications for other emerging study-abroad destinations to reconceptualize ISE after the pandemic. Furthermore, it hopes to contribute to the growing scholarly discussion on integrating ISE and internationalization of higher education into universities’ third mission of service to society across different countries.