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The Chinese International Student

March 9, 2016 |   Nicolas Chu

More and more students are leaving their hometowns and travelling overseas for their education each year. China is the top country of origin for international students around the world and is the number 1 country of origin for the US and Australia. According to the China Educational Bureau, in 2014, over 459,800 Chinese students packed their bags and headed overseas to study – 11% more than in 2013.  In 2015, that number was expected to exceed 500K.

Chinese students are scattered around the globe, primarily seeking an enriching experience and higher-quality educational goals whilst also securing future employment prospects. Currently 49.5% of students choose the US as their preferred destination country, followed by the UK (13.6%), Australia (9.2%), Canada (8%), Germany (3.6%), France (3.4%) and Singapore (2.8%).

Australia is a popular study destination for students around the globe.


Australia is a popular study destination for students around the globe, with over 500,000 international students enrolled in educational programs across the country in 2013. Over 150,000 of those students were from China. The number has increased steadily in the past 10 years.  In Australia, Chinese international students are mainly enrolled in the higher education sector (62.2% in 2015, according to the Australian Department of Education and Training). This is also the sector which generates the largest part of the education export profit.

Why would they want to come to a country that is so different to the place they call home – and what opportunities do these students present for organizations in the education sector around the globe?

The Opportunities for Australian Organisations

In 2012, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported that international education was the fourth largest Australian industry in terms of export revenue after iron, coal and gold. On April 1st, 2015 the Minister of Australian Education, Christopher Pyne, said in a media release that international education was a AUD $16.3 billion export industry supporting 130,000 jobs nationally. The number of international students enrolled in the higher education system hit an all-time high in 2014.  The growth in these numbers had added $1 billion and 5,000 new jobs to the national economy.

Study Gold Coast found that $20 million is injected into the local economy for every 200 Chinese students studying at universities around the country. This is a market we’d be stupid to ignore, but how do we attract these students?

To understand how organizations can attract these individuals, we first need to understand who they are, where they’re from and what they’re looking for.

What are they looking to study?

92% of Chinese students are leaving their home country for higher education (according to research by iResearch) with 55.9% of students heading aboard to complete their Master’s degree, 26% of students completing their Bachelor’s degree and 10.5% of students completing doctorates.

Why are they heading overseas?

Research by iResearch found that Chinese students opted to head overseas to study to enrich not only their lives but their education as well. This research found that:

  • 3% of students saw studying overseas as an opportunity to broaden their horizons and better their educational experience
  • 67% of students left home seeking better quality of education
  • 4% of students desired to learn the local language and gain cultural knowledge
  • 3% of students expected better employment prospects via studying abroad
  • 1% of students studied overseas as an exchange program from their school, company or institution
  • 20% of students studied abroad in order to prepare for their immigration outside of China.

What are they looking for?

There are a number of important factors which Chinese international students consider when choosing the universities they apply to. These factors include;

Education Quality

The top factor in the decision-making process is the ranking of the university, the major they want to study and the general standard of education of each destination country.


The “2015 White Paper on Chinese Students Studying abroad” by New Oriental Vision Overseas found that 51% of students tend to choose schools with world top 100 ratings, 27% tend to choose from world top 200 ratings, 8% from world top 500 ratings, and only 8% are not influenced by university ratings. The Australian Journal of Education published a study, Chinese Students and Higher Education Destinations: Findings from a Choice Experiment, which found that Chinese students focused more on the university ranking than on other factors. This desire was clear in 2009 as funding cuts to Australia’s higher education sector saw Chinese student numbers drop significantly as The Times Higher Education Supplement demoted many Australian universities in their annual reputation ranking. This ranking is commonly known as “the definitive list of the top-100 most powerful global university brands” and is read by students around the globe – especially Chinese students who are looking to secure a place at the best possible university. Many Chinese students also began to view Australian universities differently as the budget cuts decreased their perceived quality of education in Australia. Investment in higher education not only works to increase the reputation rankings of universities, but also increases Chinese students’ perceived quality of education.

Cost and Scholarship Opportunities

Tuition fees and out-of-pocket expenses are the 2nd most important concern for Chinese students looking to decide on their next steps.


Chinese students, are concerned about how much they will have to spend on their education. Students’ budgets to study at high school and for a bachelor’s degree are higher than their budgets to study at graduate schools.  49% of students planning to study at high school abroad had a budget higher than AU $100K, 41% of students studying for their bachelor’s degree and 78% of students planning to take graduate programs overseas had a budget lower than AU $100K. Scholarships for university fees and living expenses are incredibly attractive to overseas students. The Chinese Government provides scholarships for high-achieving domestic students to pursue Masters and PhD degrees abroad through the China Scholarship Council (CSC).  The scholarships granted for these students vary from country to country, however, each CSC student enrolled at an Australian university currently receives a scholarship of around AUD $20,000 a year to cover university fees and living expenses.The more scholarships offered, the more Chinese students are likely to apply to universities overseas. In order to attract these students, it’s essential that countries around the globe continue to grow and develop connections with the China Scholarship Council in order to increase the number of available scholarships each year.


Ranking and cost are not the only things Chinese students are concerned about. They’re also looking for a safe place to call home as they study. Whilst Chinese students aren’t necessarily limiting themselves to countries with a high safety ranking, they are unlikely to study in a country or region with a low safety rating. For countries looking to attract these students, it’s important that they enhance their perceived level of safety by promoting the country as a safe place for Chinese students to call home.

Immigration Policy and The Visa Process

International students cannot study abroad without a visa – so it’s no surprise that the visa process is a significant factor in the decision-making process. In 2011, the Australian government recognized this impact and implemented new visa policies for overseas students. These policies included improved student visa approval systems, newly introduced post-study work visa options and changes to English language requirements. This streamlined process significantly shortened the student visa processing time and the post-study work visa offered international students new opportunities to gain work experience in Australia after completing their degree.

Referral or Recommendation from Friends or Relatives

Recommendation from trustworthy friends and relatives is also an important factor when Chinese students and their parents decide which school to apply to, particularly when these friends and relatives also have someone in their families already studying in that school.

Where do the Chinese students and their parents get information about overseas universities? Internet has been the utter most important channel for them to obtain this information, with 80% of them getting the information from the Internet, accordingly to the white paper from New Oriental Group. 58% of them also get the information from study agencies, 48% and 44% from schoolmates/classmates and family/friends, only below 24% from other offline channels such as magazines, newspapers or TV.

There are also a number of websites, such as 51offer, which have been created solely to provide information about overseas education to Chinese students. These websites are often the first place Chinese students head to when researching potential universities and they are an essential marketing tool as they open the communication line between students and universities.

According to surveys and analysis by iResearch, Chinese students are not just looking for information on the universities themselves, they’re also seeking to find out more about the local area and the lifestyle they could expect if they were to attend these schools. This research found that students want to find out more about daily life and the cultural environment of the school and area in addition to information on the school itself (including expenses, policies and regulations for overseas students) and their chosen major.

Another important service, given the increasing demand for overseas universities from Chinese students, is counselling on careers and internship opportunities. In order to engage these students, it's essential that universities and organizations provide further information about the services available to overseas students as well as information about student life, local activities and attractions, restaurants and other facilities near to the university, cultural backgrounds, language and career support.

It is becoming more and more important for universities to develop comprehensive strategies for digital marketing in China, to provide the key information and services Chinese international students are looking for, and to reach them effectively via the digital channels. This information and service will also provide reassurance to these students who are often worried about how they will adapt to studying and living in a foreign country; as they try to fit into a new culture, adapt to the language and lifestyle. 

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