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China-ASEAN Education Collaboration on Fast Track

Having studied at Guizhou University for three years, Jarunee Pourprasert from Thailand is not only fluent in Chinese, but can even use local Chinese dialects from time to time.

Preferring to be called "Pan Meimei," the tourism management major describes China as "a passionate, friendly and rapidly-developing country with a rich culture."

"I am glad to be here to see what the real China is like, as I used to watch Chinese sitcoms to learn Chinese at Siam University," she said.

Having received a full scholarship from the Chinese government, Pourpraser is one of many students from member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) who have benefited from closer educational cooperation between China and the ASEAN.

Official statistics released by China's Ministry of Education during the fourth China-ASEAN Education Cooperation Week, an educational conference currently taking place in southwest China's Guizhou Province, showed that from 2008 to 2010, the number of ASEAN students studying in China surged from 34,000 to 49,000, registering an average annual increase of 7,420 students.

The number of Chinese studying in ASEAN member countries ballooned from 68,000 to 82,000 over the same period of time, increasing by 6,960 students each year.

Liu Baoli, deputy director of the Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges of the Ministry of Education, said that the exchange program has received "high recognition" from educational officials from both China and ASEAN countries at the conference.

"More and more youngsters in China and the ASEAN are learning about each others' languages, culture and history," said Liu.

Liu Jinghui, secretary-general of the China Scholarship Council regards the exchanges as being "particularly significant at the moment," as China and ASEAN member countries collectively make up one of the world's most dynamic economies. These regions will need to find new engines for future development after achieving rapid economic expansion over the last 20 years, according to Liu Jinghui.

"Competition in the age of globalization can be reduced to a competition of talent. Increased international student exchanges represent a general trend," Liu Jinghui said.

Misran Bin Karmain, deputy secretary-general of ASEAN, said that he hopes Asia's new generation of students can improve their abilities and gain invaluable experience through overseas studies, as this will help to to become more competitive in a rapidly changing global market.

To inspire youngsters students in China and ASEAN member countries to study abroad, the Chinese government promised to provide scholarships to 10,000 ASEAN students by 2010. It reached cooperative education agreements with Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Philippines and signed mutual diploma recognition contracts with Malaysia and Thailand to that end.

A total of 31 ASEAN universities have inked 135 cooperation agreements with 47 Chinese universities so far, according to Liu Baoli.

At Chinese institutes of higher education, students can major in all languages spoken in ASEAN countries. For students from ASEAN member countries, China has trained nearly 5,000 Mandarin Chinese lecturers and volunteers to provide the students with language instruction.

"These advancements have provided solid policy and legal support for China and ASEAN members to enhance their collaboration in higher education," said Liu Baoli.

China's Ministry of Education has planned to turn China into Asia's most popular destination for overseas students. By 2020, the number of foreign students studying in Chinese mainland universities, as well as primary and middle schools, is predicted to reach half a million. In the future, Liu said that China will continue to facilitate mutual diploma recognition programs with ASEAN member countries and establish an overseas study foundation to encourage more students to study abroad.

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