The growth rate for Chinese students enrolling at universities in the United States is continuing to decline, according to a report, and three universities are among those seeing a drop in numbers.
The number of Chinese students at the University of Alabama has decreased by 43 percent over the past two years to 266, according to the university's annual enrollment report. Chinese students enrolling at Kansas State University and the University of Iowa have fallen by about a third.
"Many factors are influencing the decline in the number of Chinese students - in particular greater competition from other universities in the US, university systems in other countries that have enhanced their outreach efforts in China, and also I have seen strong adva
ncements in Chinese higher education in recent years that might be enticing students to stay home for their degrees," Dr Susan Carvalho, associate provost and dean of the University of Alabama's graduate school, said.
"The trade conversations between the US and China may have influenced perceptions to some degree, but I feel that when we talk with prospective students in China, there is no single answer that emerges," she said.
Carvalho said the university has created webpages in Chinese and is working to be more accessible to prospective students by working with Chinese and international companies to increase the school's social media and internet presence. "We are also traveling to more recruitment events in China, where we can meet students face to face," she said.
Last week, the "Open Doors" report by the Institute of International Education, an organization that focuses on international student exchange and aid, foreign affairs, and international peace and security, showed that the growth rate for Chinese students at US universities continued to decline in the 2018-19 academic year.
China still had the largest number of overseas students in the US in 2018-19 with 369,548, the report said. It sends more students than any other country. India, South Korea and Saudi Arabia are next.
The number of newly enrolled international students fell by 1 percent in fall 2018 compared with the year before. It follows decreases of 7 percent and 3 percent in the previous two years. The IIE annual report is paid for by the US State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
"Challenges facing international enrollment, including from China, are currency rates, energy prices, school location, student visas, political issues in the students' home country and the US, as well as trade policy," Jeff Morris, vice-president for communications and marketing at Kansas State University, said.
The University of Iowa said its number of international students had declined, but it was difficult to determine one cause.
Anne Bassett, director of media relations at the university, said: "We can't speculate on why international student enrollment has decreased, but data shows it's a trend being seen at our sister institutions and across the country."
Data from the University of Iowa's fall 2019 enrollment report for the three public universities overseen by the Iowa Board of Regents (the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa) showed an overall decline in international students and a major decline in the number of Chinese students.
International student enrollment at the Regent University declined 15.2 percent overall in one year with most countries sending fewer students than in fall 2018. The international student decline was led by a steady and significant decline in students from China, down 44.1 percent since its peak in fall 2015, according to the data.
"Most of the declines were among Chinese undergraduates, down 28 percent from fall 2018, but Chinese graduate and professional students were down 10 percent from fall 2018. Enrollment from China in 2019 has dropped by 1,953 students from a high of 4,430 in 2015," according to the report.
The decline in the enrollment of Chinese students could be a concern for universities that rely on their tuition fees, which tend to be higher for all international students than those paid by US students.
The IIE report also showed the number of students studying business, a subject popular among Chinese students, fell by 7 percent in 2018.
While fewer international students are coming to the US, more who are already here stay after graduation for temporary work, the report said. More than 220,000 were given permission to stay through the federal program Optional Practical Training, an increase of 10 percent over fall 2017.