The increase in Chinese students across America has been a hot topic of discussion and their numbers show no signs of slowing down. A few people have made the comparison of this influx with the Japanese one in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite similar media attention to Japanese students in that era, their numbers eventually dwindled as the Japanese economy slowed and so did the buzz about it. Is the increase in Chinese students in the United States a similar fad?
China's Similarities with Japan
China and Japan both had over ten years of fast paced economic growth that garnered a lot of media attention and student exchange. In the 1980s, people wrote articles warning the rise of Japan was affecting the US education system in the same way many postulate China will today.
From 1975 to 1985, Japanese students in the US increased by 222%. By the height of the Japanese economy in 1995, that number had grown by a further 369% to about 45,000 students. Similarly, there has been 524% increase in Chinese students in the last 10 years, making them almost a third of all international students.
While Japan easily ranked #1 in 1995 in terms of international students, they entered a long-term recession that year that is now referred to as "The Lost Years." The numbers of students flooding in from Japan slowed until reaching about 19,000 today, taking them from the #1 slot to #9. Over the same period that Japanese students have decreased by more than half, China's international student numbers exploded.
While the percent increase growth is similar between China and Japan, the number of Japanese students at its peak was a mere 14% of the 328,547 Chinese students in the US today. While the general trends were similar, we simply haven't seen any influx of students like this before. Chinese students now make up the highest concentration the top country of origin has had since Institute of International Education (IIE) began producing the report in 1948. As Chinese economic growth is slated by many economists to slow more than it already has in the coming years, should we really expect the Chinese student numbers to drop?
The Big Picture
The number of all international students studying in the US has drastically increased, with more than four times as many today than there were in 1975. Students coming from Asia have consistently made up a large part of this growth, taking the spot of largest group of international students today. Japan is one of the few cases of negative growth over the past twenty years, with others of note being Thailand and Indonesia. While Japan's economic plight has most likely contributed to this, some slate Japan's population decrease and increased nationalism could be largely responsible for this decrease.
Credit: The Economist.
Asia as a whole was also able to maintained increases in students through the financial crises of the 1990s. Finally, we would like to restate that the spike in Japanese students in the 1980s and 1990s was much smaller than that of Chinese students today, by actual numbers of students. It seems that the increase in Chinese students might not be a fad like Japan, but part of a long-term increase in international students overall instead. While the number of incoming students might falter with future economic slow down, it appears the general trend will continue.