Chinese students ‘prefer UK to other study destinations’

Sinorbis report suggests interest in the UK particularly strong in ‘long tail’ of cities beyond the big names

July 22, 2022
Chinese tourists take a guided tour at Bourton-on-the-Water UK to illustrate Chinese students ‘prefer UK to other study destinations’
Source: Getty

Demand for overseas study from prospective students across China remains strong and the future looks particularly bright for British institutions, according to a new report.

Based on over 3.7 million online engagement records related to studying abroad among prospective students in China, data gathered by Chinese marketing platform Sinorbis indicate a higher level of interest in studying in the UK than in other major destinations, including the US, Australia, Canada, France, Singapore and Japan.

The data, sourced via the Beijing Overseas Study Service Association (BOSSA), China’s business association of study abroad service agencies, shows that potential students’ preference for the UK follows a different trajectory in the “long tail” – with a higher interest level shown by students from third-tier and lower-tier cities. “This long tail is key to future international recruitment efforts,” says the Sinorbis report. 

“Online is an even more important channel for reaching these new consumers,” it adds. “Universities targeting growth will continue to increase their digital capacity and find new audiences in these regions.”

Katherine Pei, regional manager at City, University of London, who oversees the university’s recruitment in China and South Korea, told Times Higher Education: “For prospective students in the first-tier and second-tier cities, they enjoy the locational advantages with more exchange opportunities and language learning resources in the big cities; whereas for students in lower tiers, the pandemic has not weakened their motivation to study abroad.”

Ms Pei pointed out that employability and career success are still critical in students’ decision-making, as overseas experience is preferable in recruitment. She said: “There are less career job opportunities in lower-tier cities, so it is a must for these students to improve their competitiveness, hence they still want to go abroad.”

When it comes to students’ concerns, safety has become the top anxiety for Chinese students looking to study overseas, which is followed by cost of living, concerns over academic competence, cultural differences and whether they feel unwelcome, according to the Sinorbis report.

Ms Pei said: “From my contacts with Chinese students and parents, border restriction is important, but one factor that they care about the most is whether students can go back to China smoothly after graduation.”

John McNamara, global research manager at the British Council, said: “2022-23 presents a mixed picture in terms of recruitment from China, with some HEIs reporting growth while others are seeing a decline in applications.

“Another factor to consider is the return of Australia, which is seeing a rebound in recruitment from several of its key markets such as India and Nepal, though not yet for China.

“While the UK has strong wind in its sails, it will face a more competitive environment going forward, as the US, Canada and Australia get back to full tilt, and EU study destinations such as Germany and the Netherlands continue to develop.”

The Sinorbis report also reveals that artificial intelligence has become the top trending subject for prospective students, with a 54 per cent increase in 2022 searches on Baidu, the country's biggest online search engine, compared with the previous year. Mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and automation and big data technology are among other most-searched subjects.

These results probably reflect the country’s push for advancements in high-tech areas, such as artificial intelligence, quantum tech and semiconductors, where a new enrolment scheme has been launched to boost research and institutions have been adding extra training for their students to enhance career prospects.

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles


Featured jobs