“The biggest drivers are internal ones, like expanding their international knowledge”
The Learning Dragon whitepaper, which analysed data from one of China’s largest search engines Sogou, found in 2018, 14% of Chinese students began planning to study overseas more than two years in advance, up from 12% the previous year.
“Chinese students now are searching earlier, almost two years in advance, which is quite new because it used to be around 12 to 18 months,” said Sinorbis chief executive Nicolas Chu.
The report also found internal factors were increasingly dominating the decision-making of Chinese students, with 64% looking to study abroad to enrich their personal experiences or expand international knowledge.
“The biggest drivers are internal ones… more than the external factors,” Chu said.
“Two years ago, the external were more important, such as avoiding the entrance exam, the Gaokao, which is pretty intense, but also the influence of friends and family.”
“The telling changes of the data from the past few years is security”
The diminishing influence of family appears to be impacting who makes the final decision to go overseas, with the report revealing students played an increased role either as part of a family discussion or alone.
In 2018, the decision to go overseas was made by the entire family in 45% of cases and 31% by the solely by the student, which the report noted was reflective of increasing independence among China’s young people. In just under a quarter of instances, the decision was made by the parents.
Similarly, personal factors influenced the choice of field of study, with interest in the subject the biggest consideration for students at 59%. Employment opportunities came in second at 53%, while all other factors were a consideration in fewer than half of cases.
But while Chinese students were trending towards independence when making a decision to go overseas, Chu said it was still crucial for “universities to tailor their marketing to both the students and their parents”.
While internal factors drove the choice to study abroad, external factors played a significant role in selecting the final destination, with a substantial increase in concerns around safety, jumping from seventh most important factor in 2017 to second in 2018.
“Universities must tailor their marketing to both the students and their parents”
“The telling changes of the data from the past few years is that security was only considered by less than 30%… in 2017, and now it has increased to 42% in just one year,” he said.
“I think this is reflective of the students’ response to anti-immigrant sentiment in some destinations, some isolated but highly-publicised incidents of violence against Chinese students.”
Speaking with The PIE News, Chu added that secondary research on China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs found a six-fold increase in the number of requests for consular assistance between 2014-2016.
The combination of several positive and negative factors, such as the ongoing trade war between China and the US as well as destination marketing efforts, has also impacted the search behaviours of Chinese students, and Chu said Australia was catching up to the US in terms of most searched destination.
“I think the US never had to do [any substantive marketing], really. Australia has really built an export market for the past 10-15 years,” he said.
Canada, meanwhile, saw an 88% increase in search volume, which Chu also attributed to students turning away from the US.
In late 2018, Open Doors data revealed the number of commencing international students declined by 6.6% in 2017/18, the second consecutive drop, despite seeing an overall increase in student enrollments.