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China outbound market “far from monolithic”

There has been an “M-shaped recovery” in outbound mobility from China to the UK in 2022, while Chinese universities themselves are improving by “leaps and bounds”, a new report from the British Council has indicated.

Shanghai and other cities' strict Covid protocols have prompted an M-shaped recovery in outbound mobility. Photo: Pexels

Chinese students are becoming more conscious of rankings and the outbound market is being “dominated” by postgraduate students

The five trends in China’s outbound student market paper, published in August, also says that Chinese students are becoming more conscious of rankings and the outbound market is being “dominated” by postgraduate students.

“China’s outbound student market is far from monolithic,” Jazreel Goh, director of Malaysia/East Asia insights and engagement hub for the British Council, told The PIE News.

“As a result, UK HEIs will need to reassess their own position within the Chinese student market and adjust their recruitment strategies accordingly,” she added.

“UK HEIs will need to reassess their own position within the Chinese student market”

The so-called M-shaped recovery is being driven by the “solid rebound” in outbound mobility in 2021, which has levelled off in 2022. However, Covid-related lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities in China in the first half of the year could indicate a further “slowdown” as 2022 progresses.

It indicated that uncertainty “will abound” until China stops using the strict containment method it has so far been using to curb Covid cases.

Another trend mentioned is that more applications are not translating into more enrolments. This application overload, Goh said, came directly from the pandemic where students were applying to more institutions to cover their cases.

“The students were applying to more countries just so that they would have more options in case of any travel policy changes,” Goh explained.

Non-Russell Group universities will also have to strap on their boots as the report also specifies that the quality of Chinese education going up may mean they struggle to meet their recruitment targets.

“I think that non-Russell Group universities would need to focus on promoting their strong subjects and really demonstrate the value of their degrees.

“For example, they should create strong partnerships specifically with companies based in China to boost Chinese graduate employment,” Goh suggested.

Russell Group universities, however, may have issues at the other end of the spectrum, with the report suggesting that they could “soon suffer from too much of a good thing”.

An overwhelming majority of those applications, the report states, are coming from prospective postgraduate students – suggesting the promotion of partnerships with companies in China may help even further.

“The employment market in China is extremely competitive, and Chinese students look for opportunities where they are able to demonstrate competitive advantage.

“A postgraduate degree from the UK does not just give students an internationally recognised degree but also an opportunity to improve their English language proficiency as well – it’s an investment,” Goh commented.

“There is no one size fits all. All institutions will need to think more about mitigating risk”

All UK HEIs will also have to look out at China’s domestic market, as the amount of Chinese universities in the top 500, 200 and 100 in the world have all reached record highs.

Chinese academics now produce nearly a quarter of the world’s global research output, monopolising over any other country – and while the report says the overall quality still remains higher in the UK, universities will have to work twice as hard in recruiting.

“There is no one size fits all. All institutions will need to think more about mitigating risk and manage a demanding and changing market, but the nature and sources of those risks will vary.

“So inevitably must their solutions,” Goh concluded.

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