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US & UK more vulnerable to drop in Chinese students than Canada, Aus

As the number of Chinese students studying overseas starts to show signs of peaking, a divergence in the strategies of some host countries could put the US and the UK in more vulnerable positions when compared with Canada and Australia, a new report has revealed.

Source: National statistical agencies, based on latest available data in 2019. Canada data based on number of new study permits through August 2019; Australia data based on number of YTD commencements through August 2019; UK data is based on number of tier-4 student visas issued through June 2019; US enrollment data is based on the number of F-1 student visas issued through September 2019.Annual percentage change in new Chinese student enrolments since 2018. Image: Education Rethink

"Canada and Australia have shown that there is life after China"

According to a report from research consultancy Education Rethink, despite a widely-anticipated slowdown in Chinese outbound students, the US and UK continue to depend heavily on it as a source country while Canada and Australia focus on increasing their non-Chinese international enrolments.

“We’re now contemplating a post-China world when it comes to international HE”

In addition, because growth in the number of Chinese students overseas is outpacing new enrolments in traditional host markets, more Chinese students are opting for alternative study destinations that are welcoming and cost-effective, as well as closer to their home countries.

“We’re now contemplating a post-China world when it comes to international higher education,” said Jeremy Chan, co-founder and managing director of Education Rethink.

“While China will remain an important source country for universities, diversification is rapidly becoming a necessity in order to mitigate risk.”

When viewed in the aggregate, the report reveals that growth in Chinese student demand for the four major destinations has slowed considerably – up just 4.5% from 2016 through to 2019.

“This may not sound like much of a slowdown, but consider that the number of total outbound Chinese students grew 22% from 2016 to 2018 alone,” the report authors, Chan and company co-founder and managing director, Anna Esaki-Smith, explained.

Given the sustained growth in outbound students from China, the slowdown in demand for major markets is particularly striking.

However, the report noted that with Canada and Australia diversifying their international student populations away from China, they might be better prepared for a slowdown than the UK and US.

“Canada is the only one of the major host destinations in which China is not the largest sender of international students…Canada issued 19,000 more study permits to students from India than China in the first eight months of 2019 alone,” the authors wrote.

During that period, IRCC data shows that fewer than 23% of new study permits were issued to Chinese nationals, making Canada the least reliant of the four major study destinations on China.

And while Chinese student enrolments in Australia are down 4% in the last year according to Austrade figures quoted in the report, new enrolments from the rest of the world are up nearly 7%.

After growing by an average 13.3% year-on-year from 2013-18, the sudden decline in demand from China in 2019 is “significant” for Australia, the authors explained.

“From 2014-18, the share of Chinese students among all new international enrolments [in Australia] increased from 24% to nearly 29% as demand from China outstripped the rest of the world.

“That number has fallen below 26% in 2019, indicating that Australia is diversifying its international student body much like Canada.”

“There have been five times as many UK study visas issued to Chinese nationals than to Indian students”

By contrast, the UK has seen inbound mobility figures from China up 21% year-on-year, while issuances to the rest of the world have increased by 8%.

“In the last year, there have been five times as many UK study visas issued to Chinese nationals than to Indian students, who make up the second-largest group of Tier-4 visa recipients,” the authors wrote.

And while EU students currently going to the UK do not require Tier-4 visas, in the event of Brexit the country may experience a decline in EU enrolments, which “will further increase the UK education sector’s reliance on recruiting Chinese students”.

In the US, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System figures show that there were approximately 45,000 fewer visas issued to Chinese students this year than there were in 2016.

The steep drop-off in visa issuances has also shown up in the total enrolment figures reported by SEVIS, with the number of “active” Chinese students shrinking by 8,000 from March 2018 to March 2019.

“Given that students who have completed their undergraduate and postgraduate studies and are undergoing Optional Practical Training are still included in the “active” population, SEVIS enrolments figures are a lagging indicator of Chinese student demand for US education,” explain the authors.

“However, even this data is now confirming what F-1 visa data has indicated since 2016: Chinese student demand for US education is falling – and fast.”

According to the report, a host of factors are dissuading Chinese students from choosing to study in traditionally popular markets.

“A shrinking youth population, slowing economic growth at home, and improving domestic provision… add to that geopolitical risk and increasingly competitive offers from alternative host destination markets in Europe and East Asia, and it becomes clear that the days of breakneck growth in Chinese student enrolments are likely over,” wrote to the authors.

“Chinese student demand for US education is falling – and fast”

“Canada and Australia have shown that there is life after China, while the UK and US have deepened their reliance on China’s market to boost or maintain their overall international student enrolments.

“For education institutions in the US, UK, Canada and Australia, this will require a major strategic rethink.”

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