The recent economic and social development of China promotes internationalization of the Chinese higher education. In 2013, China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The initiative includes both investment and logistics projects, also contributing the educational cooperation between the countries along the route. According to the Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, the BRI has five major goals: policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds. The paper proposed that the BRI content covers countries and regions with a total population of 4.4 billion and a total economic volume of $21 trillion, 63% and 29%, respectively of the world’s total. In this light, the BRI aims to facilitate communications between the educational bodies, to boost the number of students studying in China through scholarships and funded internships. The BRI is a long-term economic strategy extended for 35 years with three following stages: stage 1) strategic mobilization (2015-2016); stage 2) strategic planning (2017-2021); stage 3) strategic implementation (2022-2049). Since the initiative has not started its implementation stage yet, there is a high demand for qualified stuff skilled in the wide range of spheres. Thus, increasing of the number of the Confucius institutes, mutual laboratories, start-ups and technology cooperation centres intent to deepen the people-to-people communication and to enhance mutual trust and create social links between the nations.
After BRI proposing, the Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for more government activities to enhance talent acquisition to achieve national rejuvenation. In June 2014, the Chinese State Council issued a new policy of Accelerating the Development of Modern Vocational Education, which again strengthens the “going out and bringing in” of international education methods (Chinese State Council, 2014). It was stated that the number of international students and teachers and the scope of institutional cooperation with foreign universities are important indicators in national quality evaluations of the Chinese Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), especially those included as “985 key universities”, “211 universities” and “flagship universities”, which have eagerly sought such status in order to be considered “world-class” universities of excellent quality.
The President Xi Jinping in his speech at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held on May 14, 2017, declared that “Guided by the Silk Road spirit, the BRI participating countries have strived efforts to create the educational Silk Road and the health Silk Road, and carried out cooperation in science, education, culture, health and people-to-people exchange”. According to the Chinese President, this collaboration helped to launch a solid social foundation for ensuing the BRI. Since the BRI was announced, the Chinese government provides 10,000 scholarships to the relevant countries annually. China’s provincial administrations have also set up special Silk Road scholarships to boost international educational and cultural exchanges. These interactions have brought the BRI nations increasingly closer. Within the framework of the Belt and Road Science, Technology and Innovation Cooperation Action Plan, in the coming five years Beijing plans to offer 2,500 short-term research visits to China for young foreign scientists, to train 5,000 foreign scientists, engineers and managers, and to set up 50 joint laboratories.
Thus, China has proposed an educational and cultural strategy that should facilitate the realization of its economic goals and priorities. China’s cultural and educational vision of the BRI assumes that mutual trust and better understanding of each other’s culture will definitely enhance international cooperation and make it possible to overcome any deeply entrenched prejudices and suspicions raised from cultural differences. The Chinese experts stated that building mutual trust and strengthening cooperation without deep economic integration, are among the main goals of the BRI.
Since 2013, China’s Ministry of Education has signed over 60 agreements with various countries for expanding educational opportunities for students. As a result, there are a number of a bright example of the BRI educational cooperation. In fact, Kazakhstan ranks 9th at the Top 10 sending countries of total international student enrollment in China. In his article titled “May China-Kazakhstan Relationship Fly High Toward Our Shared Aspirations” published by the leading Kazakh newspaper, Kazakhstanskaya Pravda, ahead of his state visit on June 7-10, 2017 to Kazakhstan, the Chinese President Xi Jinping stated that in 2016 the number of mutual trips of Kazakh and Chinese nationals reached 500,000, while the number of Kazakhstani students studying in China increased to 14,000. To date, Five Confucius Institutes and seven classes of Confucius were opened in Kazakhstan since 2007. In addition, four research centers studying Kazakhstan currently operate in the Chinese universities.
In order to broaden educational opportunities across the BRI, a number of specific programs were launched by China. In 2010, China developed its 10-year plan for education reform aimed to open Chinese education sector making use of quality education resources from abroad. As a part of the 13th Five Year Plan, China’s Ministry of Education tasked the local authorities to provide expansion of educational facilities and enhance training of personnel increase the number of foreign students and strengthened people-to-people contacts. To date, the Ministry has already signed Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with the local governments of 14 provinces or cities to promote educational activities related to the BRI. In May 2016, the State Council unveiled a developmental plan for the next five years that focuses on boosting the import and export in the education sector across the BRI areas. The State Council’s Opinions issued on April 29, 2016, in addition to providing guidance for expanding overseas studies, encouraging foreigners to study in China and enhancing the institutional capacity, calling for strengthening educational collaboration with the BRI countries. China’s National Education System Reform Leading Group consequently suggested the special instructions, which includes the goal to prioritize China’s role in the BRI education projects such as educational fairs and joint educational initiatives with other countries.
In November 2014, an Asian Educational Forum meeting was held at Chengdu. As a result of the meeting, the New Silk Road Education Alliance was formed with over 100 educational institutions coming together and resolving to expand educational opportunities among the BRI countries. The Preparatory Committee was established with participation of the Korea Graduate School of Sciences, International Business School, World Economic Forum, Islamic World Education and educational institutions from Kazakhstan, Czech, Israel, Germany and other countries participating. The parties agreed to meet annually in China and continue to prepare the Educational Competitiveness Report that ranks countries of the BRI region. Furthermore, China signed agreements on mutual recognition of diplomas with 46 countries, 2539 cooperation agreements with foreign universities and 141 agreements on joint research projects awarding 3,000 scholarships in April 2017. The above measures clearly demonstrate that China’s strategy for the internationalization of its higher education experiences became an integral part of the BRI.
In conclusion, China’s plans to expand the educational opportunities in the BRI areas is ambitious in its nature, but there is no doubt that this goal correlates with the Chinese national interests. Beijing is well aware that in order to complete large-scaled industrial, economic and transportation project within the framework of the BRI there is a strong need that the Chinese education market entered its “golden age” providing thousands of highly qualified talented professionals. However, China intends to introduce different educational and professional ethos and practices compared to the western standards. Chinese international educational system promotes variety of cultures and development systems, also forms the China-centric knowledge system. However, it will take a long time before the West-centric system of education would be replaced by the China-centric one.