Key trends among Chinese international students in 2019

According to China’s Ministry of Education, in 2017, the number of students leaving to study abroad exceeded 600,000 for the first time, at an increase of 11.74% on the previous year.

This rise is largely due to the growth of the number of Chinese upper-middle-class (with annual disposable incomes between US$24,001 and US$46,000) and affluent (with annual disposable incomes over US$46,000) households, which today account for 17% of all urban households. One study estimated that the number of upper-middle-class households and affluent households will nearly double to 100 million by 2020, accounting for 30% of all urban households.

This increased income means overseas education is now more affordable to more families in China than ever before. As China’s upper-middle and affluent classes look to embrace the education and cosmopolitan values of Western countries, more and more Chinese students will be seeking education abroad, even if the parents themselves have had no direct experience with overseas education.

Students are heading overseas earlier

Students are heading overseas at a younger age, with more and more students targeting high-school and undergraduate programs rather than postgraduate programs.

Graduates are highly likely to return to China

The majority of Chinese students who study abroad are likely to return to China following the completion of their overseas education. According to statistics released by China’s Ministry of Education, 480,900 students returned from overseas study in 2017, up 11% from 2016.

Looking at figures between 1978 and 2017, of the more than 5 million Chinese students who have opted to study abroad, over 3 million of these, or about 84%, have returned to China.

This is largely due to students simply missing home and wanting to be closer to family and friends, with around 50% of returning students citing “emotional and cultural factors” as a reason for coming home. The improving economy and continuing relative political stability in China also play a key role, with 43% stating this was a factor.

The difficulty of renewing visas and obtaining permanent residency also affects around 20% of returnees, while the difficulty of obtaining postgraduate employment in the foreign destination affects around 16%.

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