Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF
21st Jul 2021

Survey explores perspective of foreign-enrolled students in China

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • Nearly all Chinese students who had begun studies abroad but were then forced to return to China during the pandemic say they are planning to return overseas to complete their studies
  • Roughly a third of survey respondents added that would be applying to study in additional countries in order to “ensure the stability of their study abroad plans”

A recently released survey of nearly 8,000 students provides insights on the outlook of Chinese students enrolled at institutions abroad but currently in China due to the pandemic. The report, “Future study abroad plans for study abroad students currently in China,” was originally prepared by noted education agency Beijing New Oriental Vision Overseas and subsequently summarised by BOSSA (Beijing Overseas Study Service Association).

There have been many reports of Chinese families being reluctant to send their children abroad in the pandemic. While families may be waiting for the worst to pass, however, student demand for foreign education remains high. Some of the white paper’s most striking findings are that,

  • 91% of respondents said they are still considering study abroad;
  • 92% of those who had begun their studies abroad but returned to China due to COVID-19 plan to return to their destination countries to complete their programmes;
  • Over 70% of Chinese students who have studied abroad said they would recommend the experience to friends and peers;
  • 71% of those who intend to study abroad are at the undergraduate level or above, and the majority of those people intend to go abroad for further studies after completing their undergraduate studies in China.
Future study abroad plans for foreign-enrolled students currently in China. Source: New Oriental

The fact that more than 9 in 10 plan to return to their host country is encouraging for international educators, given that the survey also found that “nearly 80% of students enrolled in overseas colleges are still in China.” More than half of those students (54%) are continuing their studies online while roughly a quarter are pursuing internships or taking a temporary break in their studies while in China.

Long and complex decision-making process

Importantly for educators, the survey found that “the proportion of those who choose an institution for study abroad more than two years in advance has increased year by year, reaching 23%.” The enrolment funnel is obviously a long one, and recruiters who step back now due to current recruitment challenges in China may regret the decision in the future.

That the competition for Chinese students will be more intense than pre-pandemic is underscored by this finding:

“Nearly 30% of students who intended to study abroad tended to increase the number of countries they were applying to at the same time, so as to ensure the stability of their study abroad plans.”

Families are also carefully monitoring destination countries’ response to the pandemic, epidemiological situation, and treatment of Chinese students and people in general – all factors that will continue to play an important role in the relative attractiveness of international study destinations over the next year.

The following chart highlights the intended study destinations indicated by survey respondents, and compares the attractiveness of each with previous survey cycles from earlier years.

Priorities for Chinese students increasingly career-focused

The survey also found that Chinese students are increasingly returning to China after studying abroad to find jobs in their home country. Therefore, that the survey included the perspective of employers is incredibly relevant for overseas educators.

In a related finding, the study notes that employers remain keen on hiring graduates from traditional leading destination countries. While the report says that, “49% of employers still prefer to hire overseas students from major countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan,” with a strong majority noting their preference for graduates from the US and UK.

For additional background, please see:

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