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Overseas study still popular despite virus



A visitor consults at the UK counter at China Education Expo in Beijing in October 2017. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Pandemic situation influences choice, along with friendliness toward China

Most Chinese students studying at overseas universities or planning to do so remain keen on foreign study despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report showed.

Ninety-one percent of prospective Chinese overseas students said they still plan to study abroad, while 92 percent of existing overseas students plan to return to their schools abroad in the near future, according to the annual Report on Chinese Students’ Overseas Study, which was released recently.

The report found that 79 percent of existing Chinese overseas students had stayed in China due to the pandemic, with 54 percent taking online courses and 25 percent taking a gap year. Only 15 percent of Chinese overseas students stayed abroad, with the other 6 percent preferring not to say where they were.

Twenty-seven percent of existing students said the pandemic had made their social lives less convenient, with 24 percent saying it had affected their language ability, 23 percent reporting an impact on their learning and 20 percent saying it had affected their psychological health, the report said.

Fifty-seven percent of prospective Chinese overseas students said they preferred countries and regions with active policies for containing the pandemic, 54 percent said they would choose destinations with a less severe pandemic situation, and 50 percent wanted to study in countries and regions with a friendly relationship and attitude toward China, it said.

The report was based on a survey conducted in January and February by Vision Overseas Consulting, a subsidiary of New Oriental Education and Technology Group, and consultancy Kantar. It surveyed 7,893 prospective and existing Chinese overseas students.

The pandemic has made safety one of the top concerns for Chinese undergraduate students when considering overseas study destinations, according to a separate report on Chinese undergraduate students’ overseas study issued by consultancy EIC Education that was based on a survey of its clients.

Safety was ranked the third-most-important factor for undergraduate students this year, down from second last year. However, it only ranked seventh in 2019, the report said.

It also found that fewer parents are willing to let their children study abroad before graduating university.

Just 0.4 percent of participants expressed a desire to go abroad to study at the secondary school level this year, down by 1.4 percentage points from last year. Meanwhile, 17.6 percent wanted to pursue undergraduate studies overseas, down by 1.8 percentage points, but 80.9 percent preferred doing their postgraduate studies overseas, up by 2.5 percentage points, the report said.

Sun Tao, president of Vision Overseas Consulting, said the main reason most Chinese students have not given up overseas study plans is that it is an expensive decision that also takes years of preparation.

Moreover, many overseas universities have offered online courses to Chinese students or have partnered with Chinese universities to offer offline courses, he said.

The Vision Overseas Consulting report also found that the United Kingdom remained the most popular destination for Chinese students pursuing overseas study for a second consecutive year, with the United States again in second place.

The UK was preferred by 44 percent of respondents this year, up by 2 percentage points from last year.

Thirty-two percent of students expressed a preference for studying in the US this year, down 5 percentage points from last year.

Canada and Japan tied for the third-most-popular destination, with 15 percent each, followed by Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore, the report found. Australia has fallen from third place last year to sixth place this year.

The Ministry of Education warned Chinese nationals of the risks of pursuing studies in the US last year due to visa restrictions. It also warned students against studying in Australia last year and this year, citing incidents of discrimination and multiple assaults against Chinese students.

Guo Kaidong, 24, a first-year PhD candidate at University College London, said he plans to return to the UK in September after taking online courses at home since October.

“It gets very boring after a while, and it is easy to lose focus on my studies,” he said, adding he is not so concerned about the pandemic in the UK but will get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to the country.

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