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More Chinese students favor UK for overseas study

By WANG MINGJIE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-02 09:10
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A booth promoting study in the United Kingdom at the China Annual Conference for International Education and Expo in Beijing on Oct 23, 2021. GUO HAIPENG/CHINA NEWS SERVICE

Chinese students have consistently shown their interest in studying in the United Kingdom despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two-and-a-half years, and education experts believe this trend will continue to grow as Britain has become the top study destination for younger Chinese.

As of the end of June, 31,400 students from China had submitted applications to enter higher education in the UK this autumn, a surge of 29 percent from 2020, according to the latest data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Applications from China soared 59 percent between 2019 and 2022, while demand from the European Union, which until 2020 was the biggest source market for non-UK students, plunged 54 percent to 23,160 over the past three years, according to the UCAS.

Roger Sinnett, a Sino-UK education expert who has 14 years of China experience in dealing with educational services, said: "The UK has always been a safe place for study, with its rich multicultural environment providing a good preparation for an international future. Openly available league tables of every UK university and, importantly, departments provide a valuable source of reliable information-a resource unavailable in the US."

Out of safety reasons, Sinnett said the United State is losing ground as the most-coveted country for Chinese students.

"America-for so long the favorite destination for Chinese students-has become an increasingly dangerous place with more than 350 million guns in the hands of its citizens and gun-related homicides at an all-time high. It is not considered a safe place for a young adult to study," Sinnett said.

The number of student visas the US issued to Chinese nationals fell by more than 50 percent in the first half of 2022 compared with pre-COVID-19 levels, said a recent report by The Wall Street Journal, with only 31,055 F-1 student visas issued to Chinese nationals in the first six months of 2022, down from 64,261 for the same period in 2019.

Susan Fang, founder of educational consultancy OxBridge Holdings, said the initial increase of demand from Chinese students in British universities was not because they were in high demand; rather it was the result of the US becoming less popular and Australia's closed borders.

"Two-and-a-half years down the line, as more Chinese students got a taste of the time-saving one-year master and three-year bachelor degrees, the UK has finally become irreplaceable in some Chinese students' minds," she added.

As demand from EU students has dropped significantly following Brexit, Fang said UK universities have been fortunate in a way because the increase in Chinese students made up for the losses from the falling demand from European students. "The rise and fall in student numbers of different nationalities give UK universities a dynamic mix and keep them on their toes. It's a good way to maintain competitiveness," she said.

The large number of Chinese students in UK universities has also created controversy. Some observers argue it is a great thing that so many Chinese want to study in Britain, but it could potentially put UK universities at risk of shifting geopolitics, due to its dependency on the income from Chinese students.

Concerns dismissed

Julian Fisher, a senior partner at Venture Education, a consultancy in Beijing, dismissed such concerns, saying: "The UK's openness to international students has created an extremely effective marketing and recruitment ecosystem that means the UK is a global leader in attracting foreign students. So I don't see the huge number of Chinese students as a risk; I see it as a learning opportunity, hopefully."

William Vanbergen, founder of BE Education in Shanghai, an international education services provider in China, said he thinks building bridges with China and creating better understanding between the two countries can only be a good thing.

China and the UK have many positive things about them that students from both countries can learn from, Vanbergen said. "The friendships formed by students studying and living together over several years helps to increase mutual understanding across cultures. Those friendships will last a lifetime and form the basis of trade and business relationships in the future. They may also help to reduce political and cultural misunderstandings, hopefully creating a more peaceful and prosperous future," he said.

Sinnett added: "China achieved much across the centuries by absorbing various cultures and integrating them into Chinese society. In a similar way, one of the strengths of the UK university system is that they are well aware of external influences and pressures, from whichever direction they come."

Despite some concerns about a growing number of Chinese students on the British campuses, experts believe their number will continue to grow.

Fisher said he believes there will be a dramatic increase in applications over the next five years as students find that the job market becomes more competitive in China.

Nicolas Chu, founder of Sinorbis, a company that helps UK higher-learning institutions with their digital marketing in China, said: "Our modeling from earlier this year showed a 70 percent increase in undergraduate Chinese student numbers by 2030, in part due to the UK's increasing popularity as a study destination."

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