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Overseas experience trumps language learning for Chinese students

Experiencing an overseas culture is the main reason for Chinese students to attend summer school programs in the UK, according to education agents who took part in research from the British Council and English UK, placing this above improving foreign language ability.

Themed summer school programs, such as sport, are gaining in popularity and summer courses are valued for their cultural experience above language. Photo: flickr/Sport Nottinghamshire.

One provider commented that although language is an important part of their offering, ‘it’s never really about language'"

Meanwhile, demand from China for summer school programs is expected to continue to grow over the next few years, along with programs with specific themes, such as sports, drama and leadership.

The researcher, who interviewed 95 education agents across China, found that 92% of respondents placed experiencing the overseas culture as one of the top three most important reasons for Chinese students to seek out a summer school program in the UK.

Increasing independence was also among the most important, according to 63% of agents, while 53% cited preparing for studying overseas.

Improving foreign language ability followed, perceived to be important by 52%.

According to the report, one agent said that students “‘would love to improve their language’, but this is not the main purpose of the course due to the large cost of travelling to and staying in the UK.”

While summer school operators’ responses echoed those of agents with regards to experiencing overseas culture (88%), they placed a higher emphasis on the improvement of the language ability, at 81%.

Increasing independence was also among the most important factors, according to 63% of agents

The report notes that “some UK summer school operators agreed, with one commenting that although language classes are an important part of their offering, ‘it’s never really about language’.”

Preparing for studying overseas was perceived as an important reason for over half (56%) of summer school operators.

China is overwhelmingly the largest source market for international students, with statistics showing that the number of outbound students topped half a million, with 544,500 students going overseas last year.

“School operators and agents report that university ‘taster programs’ are becoming increasingly popular,” the report notes. And research from Ipsos and New Oriental found that 83% of students who undertook short-term study overseas were considering long-term.

Language plus programs are the most popular type at summer schools in the UK, according to the research, with an increasing popularity towards the inclusion of other activities.

All future trends point to growth

Two-thirds (67%) of summer school operator respondents offer sport themed programs, while 42% offer leadership, and a quarter offer life skills, drama and dance.

All future trends coming out of China with regards to summer school program demand point to growth.

“Agents point towards increasing interest in short-term overseas study, which they link to both increasing affluence and the greater international consciousness of the new generation of parents,” the report states.

Just over half (51%) of agents surveyed said they have experienced strong or moderate growth in the number of students going to UK summer school programs.

The 92 Chinese agents surveyed account for around 30,000 summer school students – of which 8,500 went to the UK.

Students from mainland China now account for one in 20 student weeks at private English UK member centres.

The report can be accessed here.

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