Why young Chinese study overseas

While some might think parental pressures play a large part in Chinese students’ decision to study overseas, it is indeed one of the least determining factors. In fact, students’ biggest drivers are internal ones ­­– expanding their international knowledge and having an enriched experience were the top reasons (64%) for studying abroad, followed by accruing advanced knowledge (49%), improving future employment prospects (44%) and learning a new language (41%).

On the other hand, external factors, such as avoiding the entrance exam for higher education (known as the National University Entrance Exam, or “Gao Kao”, it is highly competitive and therefore extremely stressful for students), peer influence, and preparation for immigration, were far less important to students.

Educational institutions, therefore, should focus messaging on students’ internal drivers – in particular their desire to expand their horizons and be intellectually stimulated.

External and internal factors

Influence of parents’ education level and overseas experience

The education levels of students’ parents is a good predictor of whether or not a given student will study abroad. Of the students who were already studying abroad or applying to study abroad, 67.5% had parents who had earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, while for the students who had intentions to study abroad, this number was 78.5%.

Educational level of the parents 

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Parents’ overseas study experience, on the other hand, does not seem to have a significant influence on whether or not students opt to study abroad. Of the students who were already studying abroad or applying to study abroad, 15.7% had at least one parent who studied overseas themselves. Of the students who intended to study overseas, this figure was 26%. The vast majority, however, have parents with no overseas study experience, reflecting the widely held perspective that international education is aspirational and highly desirable.

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