Since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed in 2013, people-to-people bonds have been a critical component of the Initiative. At the ongoing Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, people-to-people communication in realms such as education has drawn wide attention among participants.
Over the past few years, great efforts have been made to enhance cooperation in fields like education among countries along the Belt and Road. Through the Silk Road Scholarship Program, the Chinese government has promised to offer scholarships to 10,000 students from countries along the Belt and Road each year. By the end of 2016, the number of foreign students from those countries had surpassed 200,000. Meanwhile, the number of Chinese students who studied in those countries has also seen a rapid growth. Since 2012, more than 350,000 Chinese students have gone to those countries for further study. In 2016 alone, the figure reached 75,000, an increase of 38.6 percent compared to 2012.
Many educational institutions have devoted themselves to international education cooperation and exchange. For instance, Zhejiang Normal University has signed cooperative agreements with over 50 African colleges and trained some 2,000 officials, education administrators, and think tank experts for more than 50 African countries. Moreover, the Institute of African Studies it founded has made outstanding results and has been cited as one of the best regional research centers in the Global Go To Think Tank Index Report 2016 released by the University of Pennsylvania.
At the Thematic Session on People-to-People Connectivity during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, several students of Tashkent University of Information Technologies in Uzbekistan told their stories about how they benefited from the “Seeds for the Future,” a program funded by Chinese telecommunications equipment giant Huawei that aims to help train technological professionals for countries along the Belt and Road. “Through two terms of study, I learned the latest technologies concerning 4G, 5G and cloud computing,” one student explained. “This made me closer to my dream.”
Also at the session, Chinese Minister of Education Chen Baosheng exchanged education cooperation agreements with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, as well as education ministers from countries including Russia, Kazakhstan, Laos, and Cyprus. These agreements are expected to further expand education cooperation and exchanges.
Tian Xuejun, China’s vice minister of education, said at a recent conference that education functions as the “adhesive, catalyst and lubricant” for promoting people-to-people communication among countries along the Belt and Road. He added that China would make greater efforts to sign more inter-government agreements on education cooperation and mutual recognition of diplomas, so as to break policy bottlenecks for countries along the Belt and Road to promote education cooperation.