For Western universities, internationalization of the curriculum has involved bringing more and more international content to bear on a curricular framework that historically has been firmly rooted in European history, particularly nineteenth-century history. For China, by contrast, the whole framework of modern disciplines was introduced from abroad, after the abolition of the traditional civil service examinations in 1905, with the establishment of universities on a Western model. Over the century, Chinese intellectuals struggled to relate this framework to China’s own scholarly heritage and its development needs.
With the initiation China’s open door policy in 1978, students were sent to many parts of the world, and collaborative partnerships in academic exchange were established with many countries, allowing for interesting experiments in knowledge transfer and adaptation. Several hundred thousand Chinese students have taken advantage of the open door to study abroad, with the largest concentration in North America, but very significant numbers in Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Chinese official policy has wavered between sending younger students to gain higher degrees and sending established scholars for opportunities to familiarize themselves with current developments in their field abroad and to engage in collaborative research.
Brain drain has been an issue of great concern to the Chinese government, and officially published statistics indicate that only approximately one-fourth of those sent abroad since the late 1970s have returned to China. Yet the number of returnees has been rising at an annual rate of 13 percent since the mid 1990s, as Chinese students abroad have begun to see new opportunities for a professional contribution in China, both in higher education and in industry. As a result, the faculty in China’s top universities are now as internationalized in outlook and experience as those in major Western universities, if not more so.
Meanwhile, the Chinese students and scholars who have taken up academic positions in the West have contributed to the internationalization of higher education from the other direction. As scholars who have been able to meet Western standards in terms of research methodology and productivity, yet who are deeply steeped in their own heritage, they are able to interpret Chinese civilization, as well as China’s modern development, in ways that combine insider and outsider forms of understanding.
An indication of the contribution of this new diaspora is the wealth of articles in the premier China studies journal, China Quarterly, by scholars from the mainland who are teaching in North American and European universities. These scholars are able to interpret Chinese achievements in fields of social and cultural knowledge for the global community in ways that scholars in China may not yet be able to do.
Source: Hayhoe, Ruth, & Zha Qiang. (2006). Knowledge transfer and the brain drain. Guanxi: The China Letter, 2, 6.