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China: 39% of applicants unsure of study plans

A British Council survey of nearly 11,000 Chinese students considering higher education in the UK has revealed 39% are undecided about cancelling their study plans.

China is the largest source of international students in the UK, with 115,014 study visas issued to the Chinese students in 2019. Photo: British Council

27% said they are not at all likely to cancel, or unlikely to cancel

China is the largest source of international students in the UK, with 115,014 study visas issued to the Chinese students in 2019 – 45% of such international visas.

“We know that international students are incredibly resilient, but…they need support and reassurance”

The survey was run by the BC research and consultancy team in Beijing and featured 10,808 responses from students in China between 27 March and 3 April.

While the report acknowledged a bias towards postgraduate students who made up 85% of respondents (Chinese students in the UK are typically split 50/50 between undergrads and postgrads) it noted that there were no significant differences in how the two groups answered the questions.

Respondents were already considered ‘in the pipeline’, with 98% either having applied or already studying internationally and most of them in the UK.

Of the 8,481 respondents who have applied to study this year, 22% said they are likely or very likely to cancel their study plans and 39% are undecided. 27% said they are not at all likely to cancel, or unlikely to cancel.

However, of the 1,770 respondents who are already studying outside of China this year, 13% said they were unlikely to return and 28% remain undecided about coming back, a situation described as “possibly a cause for concern” for HE institutions.

While students who are further along the application process are less likely to cancel, this trend poses a challenge to institutions who may be looking to pick up late applications, noted the report.

Commenting on the survey, author and global head of Insights and Consultancy at the BC, Matt Durnin, said this group of students “is where the battle will be fought over the coming months in order to maintain enrolments over the coming academic year”.

“This rapidly evolving crisis has potentially severe implications for higher education, with growing uncertainty about when and how we can resume operations,” he added.

When students were asked about their concerns over applying to the UK, 79% said they were very concerned about health and well-being; 87% are very concerned about personal safety; 86% are concerned about finances; 70% concerned about applications difficulties.

In March, a survey by the Beijing Overseas Study Service Association found that approximately 86% of Chinese students currently studying abroad wish to return to China, with almost two-thirds of those surveyed saying they aren’t satisfied with the actions their host countries are taking to halt the spread of coronavirus.

“This will be a challenging year for international higher education, globally and in the UK,” added BC senior advisor on Education Research, Michael Peak.

“We know that international students are incredibly resilient, but like everyone at this time, they need support and reassurance that whenever they engage with UK education, they will be part of a high-quality learning experience.”

Further results from the survey can be found in the video below:

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