More than a quarter of Chinese students want to remain in UK

Research from the University of Warwick reveals a mismatch between the aspirations and final destinations of Chinese students at UK universities

May 18, 2016
A boat of Chinese students sinking
Source: Reuters
Hope floats: there is a mismatch between the aspirations and final destinations of Chinese students

More than a quarter of Chinese students at UK universities would like to remain in the country once they graduate, but only a tenth do, according to the preliminary findings of new research from the University of Warwick.

A survey of 2,174 Chinese students from 54 UK universities found that 27 per cent would like to remain in the UK after they graduate, while 60 per cent would like to return to China.

However, data collected by Warwick on the destinations of 3,289 Chinese undergraduates and postgraduates from 22 UK universities in 2013-14 found that only 11 per cent remained in the UK, while 70 per cent returned to their home country, suggesting that there is a discrepancy between Chinese students’ aspirations and their final destinations.

The survey, which was carried out in February and March 2016 by the University of Warwick’s student careers and skills department and funded by British Council China, also found that science students were less likely to want to return to China than those studying other subjects.

This correlates with the destination data, which found that those most likely to stay in the UK were male postgraduate research graduates from STEM or social sciences disciplines, in spite of the Chinese government’s focus on investment in science and technology in recent years.

The research was launched by the university at its London campus at The Shard on 18 May.

Lawrence Young, Warwick’s pro vice-chancellor (academic planning and resources), said the preliminary results were based on a small sample of the 80,000 Chinese students in the UK, but represented a “good start” in terms of knowing more about them.

He said that while he would “assume” that the mismatch between the aspirations and final destinations of Chinese students was due to the UK’s crackdown on post-study work visas, this trend needed to be looked at “more closely”.

On the finding that science students were more likely to want to remain in the UK, he said there might be a “misplaced perception” among Chinese students who wish to work in academia that “their careers are best served working in what they perceive to be the more competitive and reputationally beneficial environments outside China”.

However, he said he suspects this perception will change.

“Education is a central part of [China’s] golden era and in the [country’s] five-year plan, promoting employment and entrepreneurship of university graduates is central. We wonder whether that will result in a shift in the way students think of the value of student experience outside China,” he said.

He added that there may also be a shift as UK competitors, specifically Australia, Canada and the US, focus on providing internships and placements as part of their degrees.

Professor Young said the research provides an “important lesson about the value of data sharing among universities”.

“If we’re really going to address some of these issues for the benefit of Chinese students and higher education institutions in the country, then we need to think about how we work better together in sharing data,” he said.

“We’d like to extend our reach beyond the 22 universities prepared to share [destination data] initially.”

He added that the final research will be published later this year.

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