Chinese students also put greater importance on whether their degrees abroad would help them get a job back in China. Experts suggested the students’ desire for jobs in their home country might be explained by political tensions between the US and China.
The Pull factors in choosing a higher education study abroad destination after the massive global immobility: A reexamination from Chinese perspectives study was carried out by Ka Ho Mok, from Lingnan University in Hong Kong and Baohua Lucy Yu, also from Lingnan University.
The quantitative research set out to establish pull factors considered and valued by prospective Chinese international students and their parents following the pandemic.
Researchers surveyed 1,054 students and 184 parents between November 2022 and January 2023.
The top factors for students when deciding where to study were tuition cost (83.87%), living cost (69.55%), tuition language (67.74%) and Chinese employment prospects (54.84%).
The factors that parents took into account were similar – tuition cost (84.24% was most commonly cited), followed by living cost (68.48%), tuition language (63.59%), world ranking of institutions (53.26%), and then Chinese employment prospects (51.63%).
“Both parents and students, they have taken tuition cost and also living cost as the top factors, when conceiving a plan for overseas learning…,” Ka Ho Mok said during a recent webinar with the Centre for Global Higher Education, where the findings were discussed.
“The domestic, regional and also the global economy has been truly affected [by Covid-19] and that is why they have to take the financial capacity into consideration.”
Students from China have in the past typically been said to look to rankings when deciding on where to study abroad, but graduate employment has become increasingly important.
In the research, 48% noted world ranking as a pull factor, and 45% said the same for world ranking of institution.
Presenting the findings, Baohua Lucy Yu explained that 6,560,600 Chinese people obtained international degrees between 1978 and 2019.
However, Covid-19 led to immobility of Chinese students with global lockdowns at the peak of the pandemic. Inbound students were trapped in a “double bind” where air tickets for them to come back to China were extremely expensive.
“There’s a report of one ticket from New York to China was about $25,000 per ticket, almost seven times the normal price,” said Yu.
However, while China changed its zero tolerance policy around Covid to one of coexistence in January 2023, meaning mobility has improved, the research shows that Chinese students and parents are still conscious of the costs of studying abroad.
Some have also suggested that the pandemic created a complex set of challenges for students from the region.
Another key finding was that 54.84% of students cited Chinese employment prospects as a pull factor.
Yu said that immigration opportunities used to be more important for Chinese students – however this is changing.
“As we know the international relationship between China, and the allies of the US have led to a new cold war and major other western powers,” she said.
“I think for the Chinese parents and Chinese students, they may worry about safety issues… if they went to those countries, whether they would be treated equally or whether they would be discriminated [against],” she added.