What Matters Most to Chinese Students Considering Studying in the UK: Insights into Preferences, Challenges, and Opportunities


## Introduction


China has become one of the largest sources of international students for the UK, with Chinese students accounting for a quarter of all undergraduate international acceptances via UCAS. However, recent data from UCAS shows a slight decline in the number of Chinese students applying for undergraduate programs in the UK. In order to gain a competitive advantage and continue attracting Chinese students, it is important for UK educators to understand what matters most to them. This article explores the key factors that influence Chinese students’ decisions to study in the UK, as well as the changing trends in their preferences.


The Chinese Student Experience in the UK

Covid fears putting off Chinese students from UK

A new report from UCAS/Pearson, titled “Global insights: What are the experiences of Chinese students in the UK?”, provides valuable insights for UK educators. The report draws on data from more than 33,000 Chinese undergraduate applicants and survey insights from almost 1,600 Chinese applicants and around 200 existing Chinese higher education students. It also includes insights from a collaboration with the Beijing Overseas Study Service Association (BOSSA) on trends in appetite for UK study across China.


The Importance of the Chinese Market


Chinese students are not only the largest source of undergraduate international students for the UK but also have a higher acceptance rate compared to other international students. In 2021, Chinese students in the UK spent £5.4 billion on tuition and other expenses. Despite the uncertainty caused by a volatile global economy and political climate, Chinese demand for UK education is expected to keep growing. The UK’s reputation for excellence in education and the positive experiences of current Chinese students contribute to its popularity as a study destination.


Reasons for Choosing the UK


Chinese students choose the UK as a study destination for various reasons. The report highlights that the UK’s popularity as a study destination increased significantly in 2022, driven by interest from students from Guangdong, Jiangsu, and Shandon. The reputation of the UK’s education system for excellence is a key factor for Chinese students, with 62% choosing the UK for this reason. Furthermore, nine in ten current Chinese students would recommend the UK, and 92% say their expectations have been met or exceeded.


Preferred Fields of Study


Traditionally, international students, including Chinese students, have been attracted to fields such as business and engineering when considering studying abroad. However, the report reveals a shift in preferences among Chinese students in the UK. While business accounted for 43% of acceptances in 2013, this fell to 26% in 2023. On the other hand, acceptances for creative arts and design programs have almost tripled in that time frame, from 4% to 11%. This indicates a growing interest among Chinese students in the UK’s vibrant arts and culture sector.

Chinese students stay local as favour falls with study abroad

Influences on Decision-Making


When it comes to decision-making, Chinese students rely heavily on their own research. More than 6 in 10 Chinese students said that their own research was the top reason they chose to study in the UK. They also consider factors such as institution reputation, course offerings, and location. Parents play an important role in the decision-making process, with 55% of students saying that parents influenced their decision to study in the UK and 42% saying that parents influenced their choice of institution.


The Role of Student Reviews and Marketing


The opinions of other students and student reviews are highly influential for Chinese students. More than 8 in 10 Chinese students ranked student reviews as “extremely important” or “important.” Poor reviews can even lead to Chinese students dropping a college or university from consideration. University prospectuses and emails from institutions are also important factors that Chinese students consider when making their decision. It is crucial for UK educators to reach out to Chinese students and their families early in the decision-making process.


Competition and Alternatives


While the UK remains the preferred destination for Chinese students, they also consider other countries alongside their own and the UK. The top alternatives for Chinese students are the US, Canada, and Australia. Asian destinations have also become attractive to Chinese students. To maintain its position as an attractive study destination, the UK needs to be aware of the competition and continuously adapt its offerings to meet the evolving preferences of Chinese students.




Chinese students play a significant role in the UK’s higher education sector, and their preferences and decision-making factors are important for UK educators to understand. The UK’s reputation for excellence in education, vibrant arts and culture sector, and positive experiences of current Chinese students contribute to its popularity as a study destination. By understanding what matters most to Chinese students and staying competitive in the global market, the UK can continue to attract and retain Chinese students, contributing to its position as one of the most attractive study destinations in the world.


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