site: HOME > > Economic > News > Economics
Chinese Students Don’t “Get” British Education
Summary:In spite of having world class universities, Britain has seen a major decline in the growth of new students from China, while America has continued to see impressive growth. Poor utilization of agents and online resources by British universities combined with confusion over new visa policies has sent many students west of the Atlantic.


By Elizabeth Gasson

Immigration crackdowns, post-study work visas cancelled and out of control tuition fees. Is the British higher education industry still standing?

Recently, there’s been a severe slowdown in the number of Chinese applying to study in Britain. In 2011, there was only a 0.4 percent increase in applications; compared to a 25 percent increase in 2010, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

According to China’s Hurun Report, 85 percent of wealthy Chinese parents plan to send their children abroad to study, and Britain is second only to the US as their preferred destination. However, confusion over new visa policies and comparatively weak marketing by the British universities themselves may be sending more first-rate students to the west side of the Atlantic than is necessary.

One “sea turtle”- a term for Chinese who’ve returned home after studying abroad - named Wang Jing believes that in spite of the falling numbers, a British education is still top of the line.

The post-study work visa, which allowed recent graduates to work in Britain without a sponsor, was cancelled on Apr 6 this year. But this didn’t worry Wang’s cousin, who’s currently studying in the UK. Neither did other immigration crackdowns, since genuine and highly-motivated students won’t be affected, Wang said.

Former Immigration Minister Damian Green explained thatthe decision to tighten visa requirements was aimed at combating the growing number of “bogus” institutions sending students to Britain who don’t meet the needed academic or language standards.

Jazreel Goh, marketing director of the British Council, says that the British government needs to provide more information about the cancellation of the post-study work visa.

Similarly, Wang Jing says that the British aren’t providing as much information as their American counterparts, who saw an 18 percent increase in Chinese graduate school applications for the fall semester this year, according to a report by the Council of Graduate Schools.


The senior class at the Experimental School Attached to Beijing Normal University (SDSZ), where Deng Xiaoping’s daughter once studied, filled out a questionnaire this March about their plans to study overseas. Many said it isn’t costs or visa restrictions sending them to American schools rather than British ones. 21 of the 47 students based their decision on the fact that they simply know more about American universities.

Fortunately for Wang Jing, her exposure to the British brand was broader than her peers thanks to her “sea turtle” boyfriend. “My boyfriend graduated from the London School of Economics (LSE),” she said. “I visited a lot before I applied for the postgraduate program.”

Many Chinese students, however, rely only on media resources available to them. Apparently this isn’t painting a very colorful or detailed picture of what the British brand represents.

In the class questionnaire, only 20 out of 49 “internationally-intended” Chinese students at SDSZ could answer the question “What do you know about British universities?” And even those often resulted in answers like “They should be good.”

Mr. Hao, the international education director at SDSZ, explained that Chinese students at their age (17-18) prefer the exciting lifestyle that the American media depicts, but they don’t have enough information to make an informed decision on their own.


According to a 2010 report by Zinch China, a consultancy that advises US schools on China, 8 out of 10 Chinese applicants use an agent. The majority of the SDSZ students said this is where they get their information on universities.

Yang Wei, director of the international development section of education consultancy China Education Service Center, said, “Around 60 percent of the students who come for advice already know they would prefer an American university.”

Mr. Hao, the director at SDSZ, explained how he advises his students. “I work with college admission officers and directors from other universities,” he said. “They’re the ones to connect with me.”

Most of his connections are from American institutions, so that’s where he’s more likely to recommend his students to go.

The Internet

After agents, the internet was the second most useful tool for students at SDSZ. Wang Jing said that the internet was the most useful tool for her in university research, but she says there’s not enough information about British universities.

Giana Eckhardt, marketing professor at America’s Suffolk University and expert on international branding in China, explained that students often depend on chat websites. Taisha and BBS - Chinese-specific social media platforms to discuss study abroad options and experiences - were mentioned at SDSZ as two useful chat sites in their research.

Paul Hoskins, an expert on digital media in China, explained how British universities could boost their name-recognition with a bigger online presence. According to him, British universities just don’t seem to know enough about it. Apart from social media, favored sites for research about universities at SDSZ included Collegeboard and Collegeprowler; both American.

Eckhardt also cited league tables, which rank international universities based on certain criteria, as useful tools for prospective study abroad students. She says the UK is ten years behind the US when it comes to utilizing these channels for marketing purposes.

Consultancy director Yang Wei characterizes students as being primarily concerned with these online rankings, which place America’s universities above the rest.

But various experts on the subject have concluded that these rankings don’t depict true education quality.

According to a European University Association report carried out last year entitled “Global University Rankings and Their Impact,” the composite score reflects the ranking provider’s “concept” of quality. They’re based very much on ranking providers’ subjective understanding of education quality.

David Greenaway, vice-president of Nottingham University, agrees there’s a problem. “[The rankings] don’t pay any attention to internationalization or people’s engagement,” he says. “They don’t pay any attention to social responsibility. All of those I think are important. ”

So convincing Chinese students to come to the UK may boil down to creating ways for former Chinese students to share their positive experiences.

As a ‘sea turtle’ with ambition, Wang Jing returned home to China in 2008 happy with her decision to study in the UK. “My expectation was to be independent, fluent in English and get the skills for my future career,” she said. “The experience in the UK met my expectation.”


Comments(The views posted belong to the commentator, not representative of the EO)

username: Quick log-in

EO Digital Products

Multimedia & Interactive