A growing number of Chinese students are studying elsewhere in Asia, attracted by high-quality education, comfortable living conditions and costs lower than those of Western countries.
Because of the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative and rapid economic development in the region, more students from China are reconsidering their overseas study destinations.
By 2015 the total number of students exchanged between China and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations exceeded 190,000. About 120,000 students from China were studying in Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam, the ASEAN-China Centre said.
The growth of quality education in the region is the main attraction for Chinese students.
The QS World University Rankings 2022 published recently said more than 10 universities in Asian countries (excluding China) are listed in the top 100, led by the National University of Singapore in 11th place, and Nanyang Technological University, also in Singapore, in 12th place.
Zhang Mila, 28, said that enrolling in a master's in science communication at NUS in 2016 was the first big decision she had taken in her life. Zhang, who was born in Longyan, Fujian province, graduated from the University of Macau with a bachelor's degree in social sciences in communication.
"I spent two months in the summer of 2016 thinking about the destination for my postgraduate studies. Despite receiving offers from universities in the United Kingdom and Australia, I eventually chose Singapore because of its high standard of education and tropical climate.
"The diversified curriculum … expanded my horizons and knowledge by enabling me to gain a broader understanding of the world. I am now more willing to absorb knowledge in various respects."
Because of Singapore's multicultural environment, she became more tolerant and willing to accept differences when she met people from diverse cultural backgrounds, she said.
"I suggest that prospective students think clearly about their futures and their biggest concerns in studying abroad," she said. "If they want to broaden their world view and stay close to China geographically with fewer cultural differences, Singapore may be a good option."
Zhang now works as a researcher in a national institute in the city state, her first job since she graduated from NUS in 2018.
By the end of April there were about 65,400 international students in Singapore, 10 per cent more than at the corresponding point a year earlier, the country's Ministry of Education and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority said.
The 2021 Report on Chinese Students' Overseas Studies, published by the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, said the proportion of Chinese students interested in studying in Singapore has risen from 9 per cent to 12 per cent in the past three years.
In addition to Singapore, Thailand is attracting more Chinese students for further education. According to Reuters, 8,455 Chinese students were enrolled at Thai colleges and universities in 2017, double the number five years earlier.
However, in recent years more students have been studying at Thai primary schools or kindergartens in local international schools.
Song Yuwei, 36, the founder of Taylor Education, a service agency in Thailand specialising in overseas studies, said: "In the past five years we have received inquiries from more than 3,000 families annually. Over 300 of them eventually decide to enroll their kids, aged from 4 to 17, at international schools in Thailand."
Over the past five years she has visited nearly all the major international schools in Thailand, she said, and found that the education offered is better developed than elsewhere, with more experienced teachers who are native English speakers, and tuition that is cheaper than at international schools of the same level in China.
Gu Keyu, 33, who comes from Kunming, Yunnan province, and is the mother of an 8-year-old girl, decided to move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, in 2019 for her daughter to receive an international education.
"My husband and I were keen to offer more choice for our daughter, whose life at home seemed mainly to comprise studying and achieving better scores, leaving little time for her to play or develop her interests," she said.
Gu is impressed by Thailand's warm climate and friendly environment, where people frequently greet each other with a smile on the streets.
Pan Jie, chief product officer at Liyuan Education, an overseas education consulting company in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, said: "Chinese students have gradually taken to studying abroad as a regular option for higher education. This trend signals a redistribution of educational resources, and the study destinations are becoming more diversified."