According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics
, the US and UK host around 40,000 African students a year. China surpassed this number in 2014, making it the second most popular destination for African students studying abroad, after France which hosts just over 95,000 students.
For years, these numbers have remained untranslated in the online archives of the Chinese Ministry of Education. But a recent initiative
by Michigan State University researchers to translate them introduces the reports to a wider audience.
Not only have these reports revealed the growth in China-Africa ties. They also make it possible to compare China's international education trends in a global context.
Chinese universities are filled with international students from around the world, including Asia, the Americas, Europe and Oceania. The proportion of Asian international students still dwarfs the number of Africans, who make up 13% of the student body.
But this number, which is up from 2% in 2003, is growing every year, and much faster than other regions. Proportionally more African students are coming to China each year than students from anywhere else in the world.
This dramatic increase in students from Africa can be explained in part by the Chinese government's targeted focus on African human resource and education development. Starting in 2000, China's Forum on China-Africa Cooperation
summits have promised financial and political support for African education at home and abroad in China.
Since 2006, China has set scholarship targets to aid African students coming to China for study. For example, at the most recent 2015 summit, China pledged to provide 30,000 scholarships
to African students by 2018.
Although China stopped publishing regional scholarship data in 2008, our data analysis using the 2003-2008 data to generate scholarship estimates suggests that this target is on the way to being met. China seems to be upholding the pledges made towards African education.
Mutual Benefit - in education and business
For the Chinese government, providing education
to Africans is an extension of China's soft power
-- cultivating the next generation
of African scholars and elites. The experience that these students get in China can translate into a willingness to work with China and view China's internal or external policies favorably in the future.