China's Lure for International Students Surges Education Articles


China’s magnetism as a destination for international students is intensifying as Chinese universities climb the global rankings and the number of people who study the Chinese language in their home countries also rises.

You need only look at the figures from last year to understand the extent of the boom. A record-breaking 397,635 international students flocked to China for their studies in 2015, which solidified the country’s position as the third most popular destination for overseas students. The US and UK still dominate the market, but China is chasing hard on their heels.

Since 2005, the number of international students in China has doubled. This has given the Chinese education sector a faster year-on-year growth rate than any other leading destination (10 per cent on average, compared to 3 per cent in the UK over the past ten years). And this momentum is only showing signs of increasing. Analysts are asking themselves the question – how far will this go and what is the driving force?

With the Chinese economy booming over the last ten years, it’s unsurprising that excitement about the country has transferred to the education sector. This is felt not only within Asia, but across the world. There has been a huge increase in the number of people studying Chinese in their home countries, leading to Chinese becoming the third most-popular language to learn, behind English and Spanish.

Within China, the international standing of its universities has improved significantly over the past five years. The number of educational institutions included in major global university rankings has risen significantly. This is a key factor in China’s ability to hold its own against other top study destinations, like the UK and US.

China is of course growing quickly because it is investing in, and building for, a far greater capacity than the UK will ever be able to support. The higher education industry is really just catching up with the size of its own country and population. The Chinese government is investing heavily in universities and building new institutions, as well as in research and exchange programmes.

While the UK outperforms relative to its size in attracting international students, China is closing the gap. In 2015, the UK hosted 436,880 international students; only slightly more than China’s total. If current growth rates continue, then China may overtake the UK to become the second most popular destination for international students by 2020.

When I first went to China to study it was rare to meet other international students, and most of the students you did meet were from other parts of Asia. Now, you see international students from every country in the world. And the Chinese government is using financial incentives to actively encourage students to opt for China ahead of their native institutions. The number of scholarship programs for degree-seeking full-time students has increased fivefold over the last ten years. In 2015, 40 per cent of all new international enrollments received government sponsorship.

These scholarships are co-ordinated by a central body but allocated to students by specific universities. As such, there are many different types of support available to international students, regardless of their country of origin. Each scholarship is different; some offer full or partial funding of tuition fees, while others include support for living expenses, a settlement subsidy or for costs incurred due to the nature of the course (such as learning materials or laboratory costs).

While China is seeing a steady increase in international student numbers, the strongest growth has been among degree-seeking students, whose share has increased from 34 per cent to 46 per cent in the past three years.

Among this group, the strongest growth in enrollment is at post-graduate (557 per cent) and doctorate (437 per cent) levels, which suggests that China is becoming more attractive as a research destination. This is unsurprising when you consider 12 universities in China now feature in the top 100 for academic research in the QS World University Rankings, while Tsinghua University, Peking University and Fudan University all feature in the top 50.

When it comes to the impact of this academic development on the student property market in China, it is still early days. The student property sector has been a heavily explored market in the US and UK, but developers in China are only just beginning to see the potential in this area. Some of the most forward thinking developers are already making their plans and we are likely to see many more entering the market in the coming years.

When you have over 50,000 international students in Shanghai alone, with many of them living off-campus in the private rental sector, there is certainly a sizeable opportunity for purpose-built student accommodation and businesses to service the increasing number of international students. -

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