BEIJING—Tsinghua University, one of China's top universities, said Monday it will increase its number of foreign graduate students as Beijing steps up use of education and other "soft power" initiatives to promote its image abroad.
Tsinghua, alma mater of President Hu Jintao, said it will increase the proportion of foreign students in its graduate schools from 7 percent to close to 10 percent by 2020.
"Top universities around the world without an English-based curriculum have about 10 percent foreign students in their graduate programs, so we're aiming for close to that number by 2020," Wu Yunxin, director of the Foreign Student Affairs Office at Tsinghua, said at a news conference.
Tsinghua will have about 1,000 foreign students enrolled in its master's and doctoral programs this year. In 2004 there were 205 foreign students.
Other Chinese universities including Peking University also are recruiting more foreign students both as a tuition-paying source of revenue and on scholarships.
In 2009, 240,000 foreign students studied in universities across China, according to the Ministry of Education, a huge jump from 52,000 students in 2000.
China, which overtook Japan this year as the world's second-largest economy, has stepped up efforts through media and education to boost its influence abroad.
The government has set up Confucius Institutes to teach Chinese language and culture abroad. State media are in the middle of a multibillion-dollar effort to expand their reach to Western audiences and promote Beijing's views.
Wu credits the growth in foreign students to an improvement in the quality of English-language programs and better facilities and services.
"We've done a lot to improve our facilities and programs to attract foreign students, but we still have room for improvement," he said.
U.S. international graduate students enrolled at Tsinghua this year top the list for the first time -- followed closely by South Korea, which by far has the most students at universities across China compared to other countries.
When President Barack Obama visited China in 2009 he announced plans to send 100,000 Americans to study at Chinese universities over the next four years. About 18,000 U.S. students studied in Chinese universities in 2009.
"That number is not so far fetched since we're already close," Wu said. "The biggest challenge for schools across China to attract foreign students will be improving their programs and the schools' facilities.