Reports indicate a significant drop in the average age of Chinese students abroad

Concerns over fierce competition in national college entrance exams, the prestige of an overseas education, and increasing financial means are continuing to fuel demand for study abroad in China. But there is now increasing evidence of burgeoning demand among younger students – a category of Chinese mobility that some reports suggest has spiked appreciably even in the past few years.

“The average age of students headed overseas is declining significantly,” reports the China Daily. “Creating a huge market for domestic training agencies and foreign educational institutions.”

The Center for China and Globalization, a non-profit think tank, reports that in 2010, nearly 20% of all Chinese overseas students held an academic certificate below the high school level, and that that number had increased to nearly 23% by 2011.

This finding is accompanied by anecdotal reports of increasing numbers of younger students taking major standardised exams, such as the TOEFL and SAT exams. Fan Meng, director of the North America exams department of New Oriental Education and Technology Group, a leading test preparation company in China, commented to the China Daily that the number of students under 18 years of age taking the TOEFL exam increased by 30% from 2011 to 2012.

The China Daily notes as well that Marvin Mao, chief executive officer of the online overseas education network ShareWithU, has observed more Chinese youngsters starting their foreign education at the junior high school level. “Mao said this earlier start allowed students to adjust better to their new environments… He said the number of Chinese high school students heading overseas has been surging since 2010, and there has been big growth in the number of applicants for junior high schools and primary schools this year.”

Following on from this, major international study destinations – the UK and US notably – are enrolling increasing numbers of younger Chinese students, whether in full academic programmes or in summer preparatory programmes.

In Britain, the Independent Schools Council (ISC) reports that of the 25,912 “non-British pupils whose parents live overseas” enrolled in boarding and other secondary schools in the UK in 2013, nearly 10,000 (or just over 37%) were from China.

The ISC notes as well that the number of Chinese students in British independent secondary schools increased by 5.4% over 2012, a finding they characterise as “particularly notable in a year when the Government policy of bearing down on overseas student numbers appears to be taking effect: latest Home Office figures (covering the period to December 2012) show a 14% decline in the number of visa applications made by independent school pupil applicants.”

The New York Times, meanwhile, is reporting on the dramatic growth in US summer programmes for Chinese students.

“By some estimates, more than 100,000 Chinese students, some as young as 10, flocked to the US this summer to delve into American life and culture. Some studied diligently in programmes intended to improve their SAT scores. Others kicked back and enjoyed more leisurely pursuits, on group tours that visited Las Vegas, New York and Disneyland. Some attended outdoor camps.

The surge in students traveling to the US for the summer is the latest iteration in China’s booming multibillion-dollar overseas education business. Until recently, the vast number of Chinese education agencies that broker students’ entry to American colleges and private high schools concentrated on preparing them at home in China… Now, many Chinese companies are catering to the expanding ambitions of Chinese parents, and their offspring, by offering summer experiences costing $5,000 to $15,000 for several weeks in the US.”

The goal in most cases, both for students enrolled in secondary school abroad and those attending special summer programmes, is to gain admission to a recognised college or university overseas.

A majority of international students enrolled in ISC schools in the UK reportedly go on to university and in the US: “Growth in the high-end summer camp business is spurred, in part, by some Chinese high schools tailouring their curriculum for students who know early on that they want to attend college in the US rather than China,” says The New York Times.

“Between their junior and senior years, many of these students travel to the US hoping to improve their English language skills, that way gaining an edge in their college applications.”

Needless to say, if these early reports of surging demand among younger Chinese students are borne out in actual student mobility patterns from China in the years ahead, the implications are far-reaching – and the opportunities considerable – for agencies, tour operators, and educators alike.



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