U.S.-China relations in higher ed is slipping. That’s a problem.

The 2021-22 academic year saw an 8.6% drop in Chinese students and a 12.8% decrease in undergraduate students specifically.

As international affairs continue to become more precarious, U.S. higher education is beginning to see some concerning roadblocks with the country that makes up 31% of its international students—China.

On Monday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill requiring all grants from an academic institution “based in a foreign country of concern,” such as China, to be authorized by the Florida Board of Governors or the State Board of Education. Florida also cannot participate in any agreement or partnership with a foreign institution unless authorized. Similarly, Ohio bill SB 83 proposed in March aims to ban outright all formal relationships between Ohio’s public higher education system and China’s academic institutions.

While Florida and Ohio’s bills do not affect student admissions, Texas legislators are taking the matter further, seeking to ban Chinese citizens from being admitted to state public colleges and universities.

As state legislators “crack down on Communist China,” it’s coalescing with a dwindling rate of Chinese international students coming to the U.S. for study. The 2021-22 academic year saw an 8.6% drop in Chinese students and a 12.8% decrease in undergraduate students specifically. While pandemic-era travel restrictions can be partially blamed for the decline, recruitment began staggering in the three academic years leading up to it. For example, while the 2012-13 academic year experienced a 21% increase in Chinese students, the 2019-20 uptick was less than 1%.

If Chinese international students continue to ease their enthusiasm for the U.S., higher education can be looking to take a significant hit. The Department of Commerce in 2018 calculated that Chinese students bring in $15 billion to the economy, which is 38% of all international students’ economic impact.

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Why is Chinese fervor cooling down?


The 2022 STAATUS Index revealed that one in five Americans believed that Asian Americans were at least partly responsible for the outbreak of COVID-19. The year before showed that only one in ten considered this, which shows prejudice against Asians doesn’t seem to be decreasing even though the pandemic has slowly become a thing of the past. Similarly, this past April, The State of Chinese Americans survey discovered 74% of Chinese Americans experienced racial discrimination in the last 12 months.

Competition from the U.K.

In 2021, the U.K. received the most Chinese students compared to any other country, taking in more than 150,000 students. Between the 2017-18 and 2021-22 academic years, the influx of Chinese students has increased by 41%.

While the U.S. still carries the most international students currently, the higher rate in the U.K. can soon change the tide. Chinese students prefer the U.K. for their friendlier geopolitical relationship over the U.S. and its perceived safer environment. America’s lax gun control has scared and alarmed both Chinese citizens and their government alike, with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs calling the U.S.’ string of domestic gun violence a “recurring nightmare.”

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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