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US still top study destination for Chinese students, but UK gaining ground – survey

The US is still the most popular destination for China’s study abroad hopefuls, but the country is facing stiff competition from the UK and other popular destinations according to a new study.

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood

The UK (41%) has gained ground as the second most popular country for Chinese students

The 2019 white paper on China’s overseas students published by New Oriental Education & Technology Group detailed responses from 6,228 students and parents of students who plan to study overseas or have returned to China after graduating from a university abroad. It then compared results to those of the previous four years to find trends in China’s overseas education sector.

“Going to the UK for a master’s degree may be a common choice for Chinese students”

It revealed that although the US still dominates as the top study destination of choice for Chinese students, the percentage of respondents who rank the country as their top choice has dropped to 43%, down from 44% in 2018 and 49% in 2017.

Meanwhile, the UK (41%) has gained ground as the second most popular country for Chinese students, up from last year’s 35%.

Australia (18%) and Canada (16%) remain the third and fourth most popular destinations respectively, followed by Hong Kong, Germany, and Japan, which all saw a higher preference when compared with 2017 figures.

Speaking at a press conference, Sun Tao, the president of Beijing New Oriental Vision Overseas Consulting said that increasing competition among applicants who want to attend US universities and recent tensions between the US and China may be contributing to why students are seeking study destinations elsewhere.

“The reason more Chinese students are favouring the UK may have to do with the country’s relatively low tuition costs compared to the US as well as less-competitive admissions,” Sun said.

Going to the UK for a master’s degree may be a common choice for Chinese students, he added.

“Spending one year on a master’s program is fairly attractive, considering the costs and study requirements… at US universities, master’s programs typically require two years to complete.”

The paper also revealed that a growing number of Chinese ‘sea turtles’ – overseas-educated graduates – are returning home for work.

According to statistics from China’s Ministry of Education, the number of Chinese who went abroad to study in 2018 was 662,100, up around 9% year-on-year.

In recent years the Chinese government has introduced various incentive schemes to lure ‘sea turtles’ back home.

Chief learning officer at WholeRen Education Andrew Chen told The PIE News that for Chinese students who have studied in the West, there are increasingly more employment opportunities for them in China compared to their country of foreign study. 

“I believe this trend [of graduates returning] will continue because of China’s strong job market and its demand for highly educated graduates, which cannot be supplied by Tier 1 universities in China alone,” he added.

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