(Bloomberg) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping called on top officials to increase efforts to build a “high quality” education system that has greater global influence.

China needs to set up world-class universities offering scientific courses that meet the nation’s major strategic needs, Xi told the Politburo at a group study Monday, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The country should seek to attract more overseas students, Xi said. 

The number of foreign students in China slumped during the pandemic after their entry was restricted. Tensions between China and the West have also given rise to fears over personal freedom falling prey to tit-for-tat retaliations.

The government will “actively push for the building of the ‘Study in China’ brand, present compelling China stories, spread Chinese experience, and make China’s voice heard, to strengthen the international influence and power of the country’s education,” Xinhua quoted Xi as saying.

The nation hosted 255,720 international students in 2021, down 23% from 2019, according to Bloomberg calculations based on the latest data available from China’s Ministry of Education. 

Some Chinese education stocks rose after the news. New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc. climbed 3.5%, while Hope Education Group Co. advanced 3.6%.

Xi also urged for the strengthening of science and engineering training to improve the “home-based cultivation of top-notch and innovative talents,” and support China’s efforts to make breakthroughs in the development of core technologies. 

He asked officials to reform the subject settings at universities to adapt to national strategies and meet the shortages of talents needed by industries. The call comes as the country contends with record-high joblessness among the young, which has been partly blamed on a mismatch between the skills jobseekers have and what businesses require.

In April, the youth unemployment rate hit a new high of 20.4% — nearly four times the national level — and there are signs the situation may worsen as millions of new graduates enter the labor market over the summer. 

Senior officials earlier this month pledged to accelerate the building of a modern industrial system to maintain China’s edge globally. In 2021 the central government outlawed profits in swaths of the online education sector, almost destroying the industry and wiping out billions in market value.

(Updates throughout.)

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