I asked Tanzanians about studying in China: here’s what they said

Over the past three decades, China has turned into a major study-abroad hotspot for thousands of African students.

This trend can, in part, be explained by China’s growing provision of scholarships and also by the Chinese government’s human resource and education capacity building schemes, such as the African talents programme, which target the continent.


Driving this relationship is China’s desire for international diplomacy and to improve the international ranking of Chinese universities. Chinese institutions also want to improve the mobility of Chinese students and academics into Africa and have African scholars lecture in China.


One African country with a long history of education cooperation with China is Tanzania. This dates back to 1962. A major component of this relation is scholarships.

As part of my research interest in China’s role towards technological capacity building in Tanzania, I wanted to know how useful these scholarships were for Tanzanian students. I did a study with 85 Tanzanians who had academic training in China, provided by the Chinese government. I also got inputs from 13 stakeholders, including Chinese and Tanzanian administrators of the scholarship scheme.


I found that, the study group was generally positive about the knowledge and skills they received through classroom sessions and practical and laboratory activities. They also brought back equipment (like multimedia projectors) and technical literature which would benefit them and others back home.


But there were some challenges too. These included cross-cultural barriers and language related communication problems. Another factor was that Tanzania sometimes didn’t have the capacity to use some of the advanced Chinese technologies, such as nano science, taught in the courses.


More must be done to improve the relevance of training courses for African students in China. For this to happen, Chinese trainers need to become more acquainted with Tanzania’s, and more largely Africa’s, developmental and technical situation.


The study

In 2014, about 1,400 Tanzanians attended various training courses in China, including scholarship recipients funded by the Chinese or Tanzanian government. The figure reached 3,520 in 2016.


My study focused on the two scholarship schemes that attract the largest number of applicants for short and long education programs in China.


Just over 60% of the study’s participants had attended academic training programmes that lasted at least one year. The rest attended short training courses. For those in academia, 45% were pursing a Bachelor’s degree, 38% a Master’s and 17% were at the PhD level.


I used both interviews and surveys to assess what the students thought about the relevance and quality of the courses.


Students were generally positive when it came to the quality of the programmes, particularly when they were asked to compare the courses to similar ones they encountered at Tanzanian institutions.


The greatest gains they found were access to electronic and physical learning resources, specifically literature and equipment which are limited or too expensive in Tanzania. Chinese scholarship awards were also considered to be more prestigious than local accolades.

Manuel Kalama

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