Amid the havoc that the pandemic has wrought over the past two years, many Chinese families have not lost their interest in having their children study in the United Kingdom.
The number of Chinese students in the UK shows no sign of diminishing. The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service said 28,490 Chinese applicants were living in Britain in 2021, 17 per cent more than in 2020.
Steve Spriggs, managing director at William Clarence Education, an education placement, tuition and consultancy service in London, said: “UK education is still a hugely, rightly so, premium product and is incredibly popular with affluent Chinese families.”
International schools, bilingual schools and international programmes in high schools in China that have been established in the past three to five years are seeing their first or second cohort of school leavers in 2020-21, resulting in a growing interest in studying in the UK.
“It’s important to understand that in order to be ready for a UK university many families will have started planning, learning English and attending a school that can offer that pathway while the student isn’t yet even a teenager,” said Julian Fisher, a senior partner at the consultancy Venture Education in Beijing.
Fisher said attractions for Chinese students varied, including “the quality of UK universities, especially those that perform well in global rankings; a growing middle class sending their children to internationally focused high schools … and the fact that, for most, the decision and preparation to study abroad started well before Covid-19”.
Donal O’Connor, director of USW International at the University of South Wales, said: “The Chinese market remains vibrant as UK universities have been very flexible in terms of the mode of delivery being offered, and the provision of online study has been very much welcomed by the Chinese market.”
The UK Home Office said 428,428 sponsored study visas were granted in the year ending September 2021. Chinese nationals were the most numerous beneficiaries of sponsored study visas, with 135,457 granted, accounting for 32 per cent of the total of such visas granted, 13 per cent more than in the year ending September 2019.
Experts say the recently reintroduced post-study work visa, now known as the Graduate Route programme, offering international students who have been awarded their degree the opportunity to work in the UK for two years, has helped attract more students.
Matt Burney, director of the British Council in China, said the Graduate Route, established on July 1, 2021, “provides a fantastic opportunity for Chinese students to take their next steps into employment and gain international experience working in the UK”.
With Chinese outbound tourism being very limited due to travel restrictions, international students from China have been viewed as a lucrative source of income by European destinations, attractions and hotels during the pandemic.
Speaking at last year’s Chinese Tourism Leaders’ Forum, Helen Bailey, head of the consumer research division at a Chinese marketing agency, Guanxi, in Brighton, said: “Chinese students have more than £1.7 billion a year of disposable income to spend while studying in the United Kingdom.”
China’s Ministry of Education said 703,500 Chinese nationals studied overseas in 2019. With China being the single largest country of origin for international students worldwide, experts say the prospects of UK tourism benefiting from the patronage of Chinese students over the next few years will continue to grow.
Dimitrios Buhalis, deputy director of the international centre for tourism and hospitality research at Bournemouth University, said: “The Chinese student market is very important for the UK educational system … Chinese students enrolled in higher education institutions are not only paying international fees, but also staying in university accommodation and spending living expenses, making a significant contribution to the British economy in many cities with leading universities.”
Previously published on Chinadaily.com.cn