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Key facts for international students in Beijing

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China’s capital is not only the second largest city in the country (behind Shanghai) but also a leading hub in the entire continent of Asia. Beijing seems to have it all: historic attractions, shopping hubs, mega entertainment facilities and cultural offerings. Due to China’s economic rise in the last decades, it’s no surprise that students are keen to study in Beijing.

Why study in Beijing?

History meets Development

Beijing is home to some of the most fascinating cultural and historic sites in the world, including the Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. On top of that, the city headquarters innovative young Chinese companies, as well as leading international companies setting up offices in Beijing to be a part of the economic miracle in the east, whether it’s Siemens, Panasonic, or Ford Motor Company. This combination makes Beijing a great location to study. China’s two most prestigious universities are Tsinghua University (24th) and Peking University (39th), and both are based in Beijing. The city's Beijing Normal University, Beihang University and Renmin (People’s) University of China are also within the world’s top 500 as per QS University Ranking of the world’s top universities.

Great employment prospects and starting salaries

Most of China’s 20 Fortune 500 companies are headquartered in Beijing and always looking for motivated international employees who understand both the Chinese and international markets. Companies such as Sinopec, Bank of China and SAIC Motor prefer to hire from prestigious universities in Beijing and offer attractive career development programs to eager candidates.

Beijing is a scholarly city

Due to China’s long history and emphasis on scholars, Beijing has been a student city for centuries. Anyone who wanted to make something of their lives wanted to pursue a career as a scholar at court in Beijing. You can still visit some of the ancient academies today and feel the Confucian spirit. Modern Beijing also has a lot to offer to its students. Premier attractions, such as the Forbidden City and the Great Wall are right there and vibrant markets, temples, and its people are what makes Beijing such a great city to live in.

The academic environment

China is home to over 400,000 international students, most of which are studying in Beijing. The city ranks the highest in the Employer Activity category of the QS Best Student Cities index. This means Beijing is a great place if you are seeking to start an international career after graduating.

The Chinese government has undertaken various means to further persuade international students to remain in China by issuing new policies allowing international students to take on internships, part-time jobs and even to start their own businesses, something that has been rather difficult in the past.

The teaching culture

The education system is quite hierarchical, and you’ll always have to address the teachers in a formal manner using ‘professor’ or 老师 (laoshi) in Chinese. Depending on your major, you will either be part of a fixed group of students with the same timetable or attend your classes with different students each lecture. The grades are calculated through exams and sometimes projects that the professors assign as they please.

The teaching language

Some classes may be held in English, but for most programs, you’ll need to have an intermediate level of fluency in Chinese to enroll at public universities. If you have no knowledge of the Chinese language, you will be required to attend a one-year intensive Chinese language course. At the end of the course, you will take the Chinese fluency examination HSK where you will need to pass level 4. Only then, you will be allowed to apply for your courses.

Beijing’s main universities

Beijing is home to two of the world’s top 50 universities and several others in the top 500. Moreover, Beijing is currently in 30th place in the QS Best Student Cities in 2017 in the Employer Activity category with excellent post-graduate employment opportunities with major companies in China, as well as back home.

Tsinghua University

Located in the former imperial gardens of the Qing Dynasty, Tsinghua University is hedged between several historic sites in north-west Beijing. The school was founded in 1911 and has become one of the most renowned in the country.

The school has 14 schools with 56 departments including faculties in law, medicine, history, engineering, science, management, economics, philosophy and art. According to the QS World University Rankings, THU was ranked 24th overall and 5th in the field of Engineering in 2016.

Moreover, the university counts a faculty body of 4,000 with over 1100 professors and 1000 associate professors. Tsinghua University is also dedicated to research and innovation employing 32 members of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and 26 members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
You can find more information regarding admissions at the THU website.

Peking University

The university is situated close to the Yuang Ming Gardens and the famous Summer Palace in the western suburbs of Beijing. Established in 1898, Peking University is the first modern national university established in China. As per QS University Ranking, it is placed 39 in the world’s top universities and 7th in the field of Modern Languages in 2016.

The university counts 30 colleges and 12 departments, including 93 specialities for undergrad students, 199 specialities for Master students, 173 specialities for Doctor students and even 2 specialities for a double Bachelor.

On top of that, Peking University puts great emphases on applied sciences with currently 216 research centres and institutes, including 2 national engineering research facilities.

Each year, there are around 2,000 international students enrolling at Peking University coming from all over the world. Peking University has a joint undergraduate program with Yale University in place as well as more partnerships with notable schools, including London School of Economics, Waseda University, Seoul National University, the University of Tokyo, and the Freie Universität Berlin. Don’t hesitate to find out more directly on the university's website.

Beijing Normal University

Beijing Normal University specialised on education sciences, teacher education and basic learning in arts and the sciences. It was founded in 1902 and is one of the most renowned schools in China. The school has a student body of around 22,000 students, made up of 8,900 undergrad students, 11,300 graduate students and 1,800 international students from all corners of the world.

The school is incredibly proud of its vast library counting over 4.1 million volumes and around 17,000 GB of digital resources. Beijing Normal University has 1 faculty with 2 departments in 22 colleges and 36 research centres. According to the QS World University Rankings, Beijing Normal University was ranked 257th overall and 30th in the field of Education & Training in 2016. If this catches your interest, check out the BNU Website.

Beihang University

Previously known as Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Beihang University is one of China’s foremost research universities heavily supported by the Chinese government. The university counts a student body of around 30,000 in 28 colleges on two campuses in Beijing. More than 1,700 international students from over 90 countries worldwide enrol in programs at Beihang University each year. Check out the Beihang University website for more information.

Entry conditions

As Beijing has many universities to choose from, it is not too difficult to get accepted into a program. Most schools also have a favourable quota on foreign enrolment allowing international students to enter much more easily. However, there are a few general requirements that must be met by the applicant.

You need to provide a clean criminal record and transfer students need to provide an agreement certificate from their school. While some programs are taught in English, there are also many taught in Chinese. This requires the applicant to provide an HSK certification of at least level 4 that proves their Chinese language proficiency. Master students also need to provide a copy of their transcripts and several recommendation letters.

Should you not have any knowledge of the Chinese language before applying, most universities will offer a 6-month of 1-year-long intensive Mandarin program before allowing you into the regular programs.

Scholarships

China has a number of scholarships in place for international students. One of the most popular scholarships are aimed at EU students looking to gain funding to study at a Chinese university. The Great Wall Program, on the other hand, focuses on students from developing countries who can come to China to study for a year at any degree level. There are also scholarship programs for PhD studies or other Asian nationalities undertaking a two-year English-taught Masters.

Find more information here.

Living in China

Despite the rising cost of living in Beijing, foreign students can still live a comfortable lifestyle here, especially because most scholarships include housing, such as dormitories on campus. Students can also live off campus with the permission of the school and pay around 1500RMB-3000RMB (EUR 195 – 390) per room per month.

Health insurance will be covered in the scholarships and are also provided with any student visa.

Previously, foreign students enrolled in a regular course of study were not allowed to work in China but recent regulations have changed and now it is allowed to take internships with the permission from the university.

Nightlife, karaoke, and festivals

In a city of 22 million, entertainment options are not scarce. Besides the amazing historic sites and attractions like the Forbidden City and the Great Wall, there’s a lot to do for students in their free time. There is a wide range of annual music festivals, such as the Great Wall Run Festival or the YinYang Festival. Check out That’s Mag for news and events in English.

On regular nights, Chinese people love to go out with friends and eat and drink. Beijing has a huge bar scene in Sanlitun and you can find so-called KTVs (karaoke rooms) all over the city.

Local meals every student should taste once in their life

While you might think you know what Chinese food tastes like, you will be surprised to learn that it’s nothing like you’ve tasted back home. In fact, China has 8 so-called regional cuisines that are very different and developed due to China’s vast size. In Beijing, you will be able to sample all different types of dishes from across China. However, what’s truly unique to Beijing is the delicious local Peking Duck, best served at Quanjude. On top of that, you can head to Nanjing Street and sample the weirdest street food at the local markets, including snake, tarantula, and bugs. But don’t worry, they also have some regular chicken or tofu dishes.

Student housing

Most students live on campus in dorms, including international students. This option is not only cheaper but often covered in a scholarship. For those who wish to live off-campus, they need to obtain a permission from the university. A room in a shared apartment costs between 1500RMB-3000RMB (EUR 195 – 390) per month depending on the area. You can find student housing in Beijing online on social media or check cn.student.com.

General advice

The faster you learn Chinese, the easier is life and school in China going to be. Most locals do not speak English well, especially those with lower education. It is advice not to criticise the Chinese government and party in any way. Also note that many social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and also Google are not accessible in China. However, you can access them using a program called VPN that you should install before leaving your country.

 Useful links:

Study in China run by the Chinese Government
Chinese Language Proficiency Test
Chinese Government Scholarship Program

Content written by Linda Dunsmore

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.
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