Chinese student trends: implications for the UK higher education sector

14 April 2022
A smiling student in London
Posted by Study Group CEO Emma Lancaster


There is a Chinese saying that to be useful you need to be educated 玉不琢,不成器. Literally, this old saying means, “If a jade is not cut and polished, it can’t be made into anything.”

The value Chinese students and families place on education has led many thousands over the years to leave their familiar surroundings, language and culture to travel overseas in search of learning and opportunity.

China is home to one-fifth of the world’s population and, even though it is still facing significant local lockdowns in cities like Shanghai, commentators all agree China’s future will shape many aspects of our global society in the decades ahead.

But what does the future hold for Chinese students and international education?

To help understand this question, Study Group has published a new report exploring the key challenges and opportunities this important cohort of international students will bring to the UK higher education sector: Chinese Student Trends: Implications for the UK Higher Education Sector.

Change will be the new normal

While the challenges of COVID-19 have been many and varied, sector responses also catalysed innovation. Now, as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic, the international education sector is entering a pivotal moment of reset and redesign.

In China, forecasts indicate a rising wave of demand for UK study, but that demand will be different, so adaptation is key. Education providers must employ innovative approaches designed around a changing set of needs and expectations from Chinese students aspiring to international higher education. This is not a return to ‘pre-Covid’ times.


The UK attraction

China is predicted to remain one of the UK’s top countries for international student recruitment, with significant growth in university applications from Chinese students expected over the next decade. The UK Government’s International Education Strategy, and accompanying policies, continues to boost the country’s appeal and accessibility for international students. Meanwhile, the rapid response by UK universities to launch initiatives helping international students start, or continue, their studies despite the challenges of the pandemic has continued to enhance the long-term appeal of UK higher education for students in China.

Future pathways

We certainly see demand bouncing back amongst Chinese students, but we also see expectations for the type of education available changing, particularly in the pathway space.

Much has been reported about the rapid pivot to online and blended delivery as a consequence of travel restrictions in the past two years. Looking ahead, we expect this to evolve, even as borders re-open. Hybrid and HyFlex learning options will offer even greater choice and access, unlocking new market growth across China’s lower-tier cities. These options connect with families unable to afford traditional routes into international higher education. Through our insendi platform, we will continue to develop online education programmes offering students far more flexibility and choice. We also see a growing opportunity for vocational programmes, workforce skills and local partnerships creating small satellite campuses across China.

As always, we remain committed to a better world through education – something perhaps even more important now, in 2022, as the world braces for new global and geopolitical challenges ahead.

Download the report in English here and Chinese here.

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