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Key facts for international students in Shanghai

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China’s largest city is also the country’s commercial hub and one of the trendiest cities in Asia. The city of 25 million people offers exciting entertainment and shopping facilities as well as historic and cultural sites and attractions. Because of China’s quick economic boom in recent years, Shanghai has completely transformed but you can also visit old quarters and travel back in time to the Old Shanghai.

Why study in Shanghai?

Asia’s Leading City

Shanghai is the prime example for the ‘New China’. Most of the country’s upper-class live here in some of the world’s most expensive neighbourhoods. However, the city truly offers something for anyone and any budget – especially those hoping to study in Shanghai. The city headquarters innovative Chinese firms as well as leading international companies, such as Coca-Cola, Mercedes and Nikon. Despite China’s many restrictions and censorship rules, the government created the Shanghai Free-Trade Zone 2013 being used as a testing ground for a number of economic and social reforms in China. Six universities in Shanghai are listed on QS World University Rankings, led by Fudan University at 43rd in the world and Shanghai Jiao Tong University at 61st.

Shanghai is a global career city

Due to Shanghai’s position in international business as  the world’s busiest container port, companies are looking for people who are eager to start an international career. Once you graduate from a university in Shanghai, you can work for a multinational company in the city and move across the world to a different branch after a couple of years. Whether you see yourself in finance, commerce, education or another industry, if you are successful in finding a job in Shanghai, your career will be off to a great start.

The academic environment

China is home to over 400,000 international students, a great part of which are studying in Shanghai. The city ranks 25th on the QS Best Student Cities index. The high scores in employer activity (14th) and student experience (3rd) show the city’s prestigious universities are viewed favourably by graduates and employers alike.

The Chinese government has recently realised plans to further persuade international students to remain in China by implementing new policies that allow foreign students to take on internships, part-time jobs and even to start their own businesses in China after graduating, something that has been rather difficult in the past.

The teaching culture

The education system is rather hierarchical in China, which means you’ll always address the teachers in a formal manner as ‘professor’ or 老师 (lăoshī) in Chinese. Whether you will be part of a fixed group of students with the same timetable or attend your classes individually with different students each lecture depends on your major. Your grades will be calculated through exams and sometimes projects that the professors can assign as they please.

The teaching language

While some lectures may be held in English, most programs require you to have at least an intermediate level of fluency in Chinese in order to enroll. If you do not speak Chinese, you will have to attend a one-year intensive Chinese language course. After the course, you will take the Chinese fluency examination HSK and need to pass level 4 to be allowed to apply for courses.

Shanghai’s main universities

Shanghai is in 25th place of the QS Best Student Cities in 2017 ranking exceptionally high in student experience and employer activity. This means, you will not only have a great time studying in Shanghai but also have superb post-graduate employment opportunities with major companies in China, as well as back home.

Fudan University

Founded in 1905, shortly before the end of China's imperial Qing dynasty, Fudan University consists of four campuses in downtown Shanghai, including Handan, Fenglin, Zhangjiang, and Jiangwan. It is also one of the most prestigious universities in China. As per QS University Ranking, it is placed 43 in the world’s top universities and 24th in the field of Materials Sciences in 2016.

The university has 17 schools covering 4 departments. There are 68 specialities for Bachelor’s students, 209 specialties for Master’s students and 157 specialities for PhD candidates. The university counts over 44,000 students, including 4,400 international students. You can find more information regarding admissions at Fudan University.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU)

This university was established in 1896 by the Guangxu Emperor, making it one of the first national institutions of higher learning in China. Today, Shanghai Jiao Tong University is also one of the most prestigious and selective universities in China. According to the QS World University Rankings, SJTU was ranked 61st overall and 24th in the field of Engineering and Technology in 2016.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University has 20 schools with 60 undergraduate specialities, 152 Master’s Degree programs and 14 state laboratories and national engineering centres. The faculty counts 1,420 professors and associate professors as well as well-known scientists. The student body counts over 38,000 students including more than 2,800 international students.

Tongji University

This university was founded by German physicians supported by the German government in 1907. Today, Tongji is one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in China. The school is renowned for its excellent programs in engineering, business and architecture and its civil engineering department ranks first in China year after year.

According to the QS World University Rankings, Tongji University was ranked 315th overall and 20th in the field of architecture in 2016. The school’s student body amounts to nearly 36,000 including nearly 4,000 international students. Moreover, the university has a faculty of nearly 3,000 professors and associate professors, including over 800 international staff. If this sounds interesting, check out the Tongji University Website.

East China Normal University (ECNU)

East China Normal University was formed in 1951 and aimed at teacher training for secondary and higher education, indicated by the “Normal” in the university name. However, today, ECNU is one of the top-class research-intensive universities in the world. The university counts 23 schools, two colleges, 11 research institutes as well as 58 departments. Currently, over 25,000 students are enrolled, including over 4,200 international students.

Entry conditions

Because of the large amount of universities in Shanghai, it isn’t too hard to get accepted into a program. Most universities also have a high quota on foreign enrolment allowing international students to enter much more easily than fellow Chinese applicants. However, there are a few basic requirements that must be met by international applicants.

Firstly, you will be required to provide a clean criminal record check. Transfer students also need to submit a certificate of agreement from their school. While some programs are taught in English, many courses are taught in Chinese only. That’s why international students have to provide an HSK certification of level 4 or higher proving their Chinese language proficiency. Just like universities back home, students applying for a Master's need to submit a copy of their transcripts and several recommendation letters.

International students in China are required to purchase both medical insurance and personal accidental death and injury insurance. These can be purchased before or after arrival in China. International students staying in China longer than six months are required to be covered by health insurance for the duration of their stay in China. International students studying in China for longer than a year are required to undergo a physical examination, which should be performed in a public hospital one month before departure. If the examination is performed in a private hospital, the student should get the certificate notarized.

Tuition fees and scholarships

The average tuition fees at Chinese universities range between 3,300 and 10,000 USD per year. Programs that are taught in English average between 2,200 and 4,500 USD a year. It’s worth noting that degrees in Medicine, Engineering or Business are amongst the most expensive ranging between 24,000 and 50,000 USD a year. There are several foreign universities with a China campus that average more higher, at around 12,000 USD/year for a Bachelor's degree.

Some guidance regarding fees:

  • Fudan University– average tuition fees between 8,000 and 11,000 USD/year
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University– average tuition fees between 5,000 and 12,000 USD/year
  • Tongji University – 2,400 and 4,850 USD/year
  • East China Normal University – 2,600 – 4,100 USD/year

There are a number of scholarships in place for international students in China. For example, there is a scholarship specifically aimed at EU students looking to gain funding to study at a university in China. Moreover, The Great Wall Program was established to support students from developing countries coming to China to study for a year at any degree level. PhD students as well as applicants from other Asian and worldwide countries will also have access to other scholarships.

Student housing

The majority of students lives in dorms on campus in dorms as these are often covered in a scholarship. However, there are also many who choose to find housing off-campus. International students can do with permission from the university. Typically, a room in a shared apartment costs between 1500RMB-3000RMB (EUR 195 – 390) per month depending on the area.

Living and working in China

Even though the cost of living in Shanghai has risen significantly in recent years, international students can still live a comfortable lifestyle here. Most scholarships cover expenses related to housing; mostly dormitories on campus.

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

While international students were not allowed to work in China in previous years, new policies now allow foreign students to do internships with the permission from the school.

China has realized the great advantages of international graduates remaining in the country for work and implemented new regulations to make it easier to stay and work in China. The new regulations were introduced in January 2017 and state that foreign graduates with a master’s degree or above from a university in China can apply for work visas straight away within one year of graduating.

The following eligibility requirements apply:

  • Graduate degree or higher from a Chinese or reputable overseas university, graduation within one year
  • At least 18 years old
  • Clean criminal record
  • Average grade of at least 80 on a 100-point scale and no disciplinary record
  • Degree in field related to proposed work in China
  • A confirmed job offer from a company in China
  • A salary offer that is not less than standard local wages for the position
  • A valid passport
  • Undergraduates are unable to apply for work visa’s straight away and need to adhere to the previous regulations that require a minimum of 2 year’s work experience in order to secure a work visa in China.

Entertainment, history, KTV

In a city of nearly 25 million, there is always something going on. The Bund, the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower or Nanjing Road make Shanghai what it is today: a fast-paced mix of East and West. However, you can also find historic attractions such as the Jade Buddha Temple or the French Concession district. On top of that, Disneyland Shanghai opened just recently adding one more fascinating attraction to the vibrant city.

On regular nights, the people of Shanghai love to go out with friends to eat and drink. Shanghai has a huge bar scene in Xin Tian Di and you can find Chinese karaoke rooms, or KTVs, all over the city.

Xujiahui is the downtown area of Shanghai. It is a popular place to shop and also has a beautiful park. Moreover, it’s where basketball legend Yao Ming was born. The Former French Concession, called FFC by locals, is an iconic neighbourhood in the city. It was once the centre of the city where the first foreigners settled and did business out of. Today, you’ll find some of the best bars there. People’s Square is one of the hottest destinations for tourists as it has Shanghai’s largest pedestrian street, Nanjing Road, and it’s also close to the Bund, where you have the iconic skyline views of Shanghai. It’s exactly those iconic views that make up the neighbourhood of Pudong. It’s located east of the Huangpu River and has become the financial heart of the city.

Local meals every student should taste once in their life


Many people coming to China are surprised that the food tastes very different from Chinese restaurants in the West. This is due to the fact that China has 8 so-called regional cuisines that differ in ingredients used and preparation methods. In Shanghai, you will be able to sample all different types of dishes from across China. However, what’s truly unique to Shanghai is Xiaolongbao, steamed buns filled with pork and soup. Moreover, there are various night markets offering authentic Chinese snacks in the evening that are a perfect spot for students to explore in their free time.

General advice

Even though Shanghai is probably the most diverse and international city in China, English isn’t as common as you might think. Therefore, it is recommended to learn Chinese as quickly as possible to minimise the language barrier. Moreover, foreigners in China should avoid criticising the Chinese government and party in any way. Moreover, several social media platforms are not accessible in China. These include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and also Google.

 Useful links:

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

Content written by Linda Dunsmore

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