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Status of studying abroad: Unabated demand and more diverse destinations

A joint report by the Globalization Think Tank and the Development Research Institute of Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, was officially released a few days ago. The report on the Development of Overseas Studies in China (2020-2021) indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic has not significantly discouraged Chinese students from studying abroad. The demand for studying abroad and the number of Chinese students studying abroad continue to grow. As the number of overseas students returning to China continues to increase, having that international perspective has become a core competitive advantage for many overseas students.

The number of students studying in the U.S. though may be reaching a turning point.

The report asserts that the global trend of studying abroad is shifting to open regions as the sudden global COVID-19 pandemic created new challenges. Despite these challenges many Chinese students still choose to study abroad. That is due to the fact that the Chinese education system is still in the stage of development and improvement. As such, the experience of studying and living abroad, and developing that global perspective, is still attractive to many. Chinese students’ demand for international high-quality higher education has not fundamentally changed. Studying abroad is still considered an important self-development direction, but it is delayed during the spread of the global epidemic.

The United States is still the most popular destination country for Chinese students studying abroad. However, the report indicates some interesting trends in this regards. Although the total number of students studying in the United States has increased in the past 15 years, the growth rate has not changed significantly since the 2009-2010 academic year. Given the pandemic and other factors, the number of Chinese students studying in the United States may reach an inflection point in the 2020-2021 academic year. Increasingly, students are setting their sights on countries and regions with more friendly study environment and visa policies, and more effective pandemic controls.

The report shows that in the current international environment, the countries where Chinese students study abroad are showing a more diversified development trend. The proportion of international students who choose to go to Japan, Singapore, and New Zealand has all increased slightly.

At the same time, self-funded study abroad is still the dominant group among Chinese studying abroad, and the trend of popularization of study abroad is more obvious. The report pointed out that the funding from parents, relatives and friends is still the most important source of overseas study expenses for Chinese university graduates. On the other hand, the proportion of students who rely on foreign universities or foreign institutions to subsidize studying abroad has been declining year by year. This is due to further opening of international education resources, the relatively relaxed and friendly study abroad, employment and immigration policies of the main destination countries for studying abroad.

COVID-19 had negative impact on foreign universities. Many experienced financial difficulties and cuts in funding, which sometime resulted in school development cuts. The report predicts that this situation may encourage more foreign universities to participate in the competition, causing them to even more aggressively pursue international students. While this might indicate that there is a window of opportunity to choose study abroad it is likely that the competitive pressure on the world’s top universities will continue to increase. Finally, the report recommends that students apply to multiple overseas universities in different countries and regions at the same time. Moreover, it recommends that they also apply for domestic internships while applying for overseas universities, so as to accumulate experience in related fields. If this happens in large numbers, it could negatively impact that volume of applications of Chinese students to European and American institutions.

Songzi Li/Editing Manager

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