Economic climate and its impact on international mobility of Chinese students

My recent article “The end of the China growth story?” published in the University World News analyzes the trend with the global mobility of Chinese student in the context of economic uncertainties. Given below is the excerpt.

Prior to the recession, a majority of Chinese students in the US were concentrated in graduate-level programmes. In 2006-2007, only 15% of a total of 67,723 students from China were enrolled in undergraduate programmes. By 2013-2014, undergraduates formed 40% of the 274,439 Chinese students, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors data.

Looking at Chinese students from the framework of international student segmentation, the increase in students at the undergraduate level was primarily driven by the growth of ‘Explorers’, those with high financial resources and low academic preparedness. This expanding segment is funded by financially well-off families who want to invest in the experiences and future of a single child. This segment is relatively immune from financial uncertainty and continues to have a strong demand for studying abroad.

In contrast, ‘Strivers’, those with low financial resources and high academic preparedness, are more likely to be graduate-level students. This traditional segment is typically motivated by career advancement and job opportunities.

Given the size and scale of the wealthy class in China, the demand for undergraduate and high school education abroad will continue to be strong. However, self-funded graduate education at both the masters and doctoral levels will face challenges for the next couple of years.

Given that more and more Chinese are studying abroad at a younger age and continuing to study longer as “professional students” – starting at high school and continuing to masters degree and beyond – institutions cannot ignore recruiting in their own backyard. The next opportunity for recruiting Chinese students is not necessarily from China, but instead from a local institution or from a third country.

In sum, the overall demand for foreign education among Chinese students will continue to be robust. However, there will be a shift in student segments and their decision-making processes. Proactive institutions will adapt to this changing environment by deepening their understanding of different segments and preparing for the future.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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