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China agents report online study hesitancy

Agents in China are “neutral to pessimistic” about online studying, with as many as 78% saying they are not interested in making online programs part of their portfolio, according to research from Bonard conducted last month based on in-depth interviews with 25 agencies.

AgentsChinese student interest in online programs is not translating into signing up. Photo: Unplash

"78% of agents are not interested in making online programs part of their portfolio"

“Educators [who have] invested time and effort to build up partnerships or promote online study options through the agents have probably not seen much result,” said COO & head of China Branch at BONARD Igor Skibickij during a recent webinar.

“Agents are not very keen to take on the online replacement of in-person learning. Students don’t necessarily want it.”

“Agents are not very keen to take on the online replacement of in-person learning”

While as many as 50% of students are interested in online programs, according to Skibickij this interest is not translating into bookings for agents.

“Students consider the options, but they are hesitant to sign up,” he explained.

There have additionally been suggestions that the government in China is keen to temper interest in studying abroad, particularly among K12 students, with a South China Morning Post article reporting that “a mechanism to discourage minors from studying abroad” was being developed by the Ministry of Education.

“We’ve seen this topic occurring in the media over the years, though the country’s outbound student mobility data shows otherwise,” said China Office manager at BONARD Grace Zhu in response.

“Even in 2020 when students couldn’t travel abroad, they were still preparing for overseas study taking online pre-courses, exams and so on.

“It is however natural that countries try to keep and/or attract talent. China has been investing a lot of resources into their own education system and some of their universities have entered the world’s top rankings.”

The Beijing Overseas Study Service Association’s spokesperson and senior consultant Jon Santangelo also said that “the US is still regarded as the gold standard in education, according to most agencies, but a combination of internal factors within the US and the rise in competing destinations might be plateauing its demand”.

In data collected by BOSSA on the study preferences of prospective students, 25% were planning to study in the UK, 24% in the US, 11% in Canada, 9% in Australia, 8% in Germany, 6% in France, 5% in both Singapore and Switzerland, 4% in New Zealand and 3% elsewhere.

Santangelo particularly noted that “as second and third tier city consumers enter the market, we’re seeing more dispersion into non-Anglo study destinations”.

Part of this could be attributable to the substantial cost differences between studying in the UK and US versus, for example, Germany.

“The desire for study abroad isn’t going anywhere. As a matter of fact, it will stay on an upward slope,” he said.

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