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China’s first attempt to track study abroad trends estimates that more than 350 000 Chinese students studied outside the country in 2011, with 45% of them enrolled in American institutions. More importantly, the trend report indicates two significant changes in the profile of Chinese students studying abroad: first, they are younger (aged 18 or below); second, their overseas study is largely self-financed.
Since 2008, the number of Chinese students studying abroad via self-financing has registered double-digit growth, leading to the advent of a “Chinese study abroad market”. Major players in this market, as identified in the trend report, are not only higher education institutions but also providers of peripheral services, such as agents and testing services (mainly for standardised tests of English, such as TOEFL and IELTS, or entrance examinations in English, like the SAT, GRE and GMAT). Rapid growth in these peripheral services parallels the changing profile of Chinese students studying abroad. According to the report, over 60% of the self-financing students engaged an agent in their application process, and a large majority of the Chinese students planning to study abroad seeks to enrol in undergraduate programmes in English-speaking countries, leading to the growing need to take specific exams for language proficiency or admission.
The trend report, prepared by China Education Online with the support of the China Education Association for International Exchange, aims at understanding the “higher education market trends” in order to aid the healthy development of the “higher education industry” in China. Given the focus on the market, particular attention has been paid to traditional higher education exporters (the US, UK, Australia and Canada). For Europe, the report shows the relative preferences of Chinese students planning to study abroad as follows: 16% indicate interest in the UK, 6% The Netherlands, 6% France, 3% Germany, and 1% each for Italy, Spain, Poland and the Nordic countries (as one bloc). Europe as a whole appeals to 35% of Chinese students thinking about overseas study, which is higher than the 33% that prefers the US, the top destination of choice. However, very few may have interpreted the figures this way, i.e. with a focus on Europe’s ‘competitive advantage’ overall. Rather, greater attention has been given (in the Chinese press, at any rate) to popular Asian destinations such as Korea and Hong Kong, each of which has a 4% share of the Chinese student preference ‘pie’. Taiwan, which is not represented in the survey, has also vowed to step up its efforts to attract mainland Chinese students.