Chinese applicants to UK universities hit new high

There has been a surge in Chinese students applying to UK universities. What's the cause? Is it a result of the US/China trade war, Brexit, or a combination of many factors? David Sapsted investigates.

Group of students walking
The number of Chinese students applying to study at British universities has surged by 30 per cent this year, according to official data.The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) said that the 19,760 undergraduate applications from Chinese students this year compared to 15,240 in 2018. It means that, for the first time, the number of Chinese applications is higher than that from students in Northern Ireland (18,520).

Reasons for the increase in Chinese students applying to study in the UK

Educationists said one reason for the leap had probably been the Brexit-induced fall in the value of sterling and the fact that Chinese students had been deterred from applying to US universities because of trade tensions between Washington and Beijing.Universities Minister Chris Skidmore, said: “International students bring huge cultural and economic benefits to the UK. These figures show we are making good progress in our ambition to open up world-leading higher education to anyone who has the potential to benefit from it and I’m confident that we can go even further.”There are already more Chinese at British universities than any other foreign nation. Ten years ago, the total stood at 43,530 - by 2018-19, there were 106,530, of which 60,460 were postgraduate students and 46,070 undergraduates.Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, said: “The global appeal of UK higher education has never been clearer, with record demographic-beating application rates in England and Wales, and the steep rise in international applications, especially from China.”The University of Manchester has the largest enrolment of Chinese students in Europe, with about one in eight of its 40,000 total coming from China.“The university is well known in China,” Richard Cotton, the university's director of student recruitment and outreach, told the Guardian. “It’s partly because of the football. Then in 2015, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, visited the National Graphene Institute at Manchester University. We did see a significant increase in applications [from China] after that.“You can’t project yourself as an international university unless you have large cohort of international students. They are bringing connections. In the classroom they can offer an international experience for domestic students.”
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Nick Hillman, a governor at Manchester and director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank, added: “It’s clear that the UK is benefiting from cooler relations between China and the US, and also between China and Australia. We can’t take anything for certain as demand from other countries is very sensitive to all sorts of things but we are clearly gaining advantage at the moment.”

EU27 applicants to UK universities has risen

Data from UCAS also showed that, despite Brexit, the volume of EU27 applicants this year had risen by one per cent to 50,650 and that a record 81,340 applications had been received from students from outside the European Economic Area - an increase of eight per cent on last year.The number of young people from the UK applying has increased by one per cent to 275,520, despite a 1.9 per cent fall in the overall 18-year-old population of the UK.Mr Skidmore said: “It is fantastic to see there are record rates of 18-year-olds in England, including an increase from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, applying to university.”Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said it was "very good news" that 18-year-olds in England were more likely than ever before to apply to university."Employer demand for graduates continues to rise - educating more people of all ages at university will grow the economy faster, by increasing productivity, competitiveness, and innovation. Growing the number of graduates will enhance social mobility," he said."Our universities have a well-deserved global reputation for high-quality teaching, learning and research, delivered by talented staff, while students report rising levels of satisfaction with their courses."Subscribe to Relocate Extra, our monthly newsletter, to get all the latest international assignments and global mobility news.Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Global Mobility Toolkit download factsheets resource centreAccess hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory

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