Rising Chinese student preference for creative arts ‘can help UK’

Seven in 10 Chinese students more likely to stay in the UK because of the graduate visa route, Ucas report adds

December 18, 2023
Source: iStock

UK universities should take advantage of Chinese students’ rising interest in creative arts degrees to remain competitive on the world stage, a new report says.

Despite a fall in accepted applicants in the last year, Chinese students remain the largest cohort of the UK’s undergraduate global market – accounting for one in every four international acceptances.

The number accepted on to UK courses has more than doubled between 2013 and 2023, but a new report from Ucas reveals a shift in the most popular subjects for Chinese students over that time.

Although it has declined from 43 per cent of all Chinese undergraduate acceptances to just 26 per cent, business remains the most popular choice.

Over the same period, interest in creative arts and design subjects has more than doubled – from 4 per cent of Chinese Ucas acceptances in 2013 to 11 per cent this year – making it the fourth most popular subject.

To remain competitive in the global market, the report says UK universities should look beyond business courses and promote more subjects to students from China, such as creative arts and social sciences, mathematical sciences and engineering.

Current recruitment is also highly concentrated around London and in the most selective institutions, with scope for UK higher education to broaden its appeal across different regions and universities.

Ucas says that 76 per cent of Chinese undergraduate acceptances were to high-tariff universities, while three regions (London, Yorkshire and the Humber, and the North West) account for 57 per cent of acceptances.

Sander Kristel, interim chief executive of Ucas, said the UK has a flourishing creative arts sector with world-leading TV and film, fashion, design and music industries.

“This presents a significant opportunity for universities and colleges to promote the unique offering of our creative courses,” he said.

“However, our report emphasises that sustained growth in the Chinese market is not guaranteed – with global economic uncertainty and competition the backdrop of an increasingly dynamic landscape.”

Recent end of cycle data for 2023 showed a decline in the number of students applying at undergraduate level from China for the first time since 2014.

It comes at a time of increasing competition from established and emerging destination countries such as Australia, US, Canada, Japan and China itself.

The Ucas report found that Chinese students consider several study destinations in parallel – 63 per cent of undergraduate applicants applied or planned to apply to another country alongside the UK and China.

Published in partnership with Pearson, the paper also shows that seven in 10 Chinese students are more likely to stay in the UK because of the graduate visa route, while one in five do not know about it.

Ula Tang-Plowman, chair of the China regional interest group of the British Universities International Liaison Association, and director of international recruitment at the University of Central Lancashire, said the data revealed a “significant shift” in the academic interests of Chinese students.

“Understanding these changes is crucial for us in the higher education sector, especially in light of the challenges and transformations we’ve witnessed post-pandemic,” she said.


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