Chinese students in the UK

Chinese students in the UK

Chinese students in the UK are keeping universities afloat, at least economically.  Chinese students, as the largest group of international students in many UK universities, contribute significantly to their revenue. This is especially relevant given that international students often pay considerably higher tuition fees than domestic students. The financial input from these students can be crucial for universities, especially in the context of declining government funding in some regions and the financial impacts of events like the COVID-19 pandemic.


However, the follow four factors should also be reflected upon:

Chinese students in the UKChinese students in the UK – Dependency Risks

This reliance on revenue from international students, particularly from one country like China, can pose risks. It makes universities vulnerable to geopolitical tensions, changes in student mobility patterns, and policies of the students’ home countries.


Chinese students in the UK – Academic and Cultural Contributions

Beyond financial aspects, Chinese students contribute to the academic and cultural diversity of UK universities. They bring different perspectives to the classroom, enrich the learning environment, and promote cross-cultural understanding.


Chinese students in the UK – Long-term Sustainability

While the short-term financial benefits are clear, universities must also consider the long-term sustainability of heavily relying on revenue from international students. Diversifying the student body and revenue streams can help mitigate risks associated with over-reliance on students from a single country.


Chinese students in the UK – Policy and Perception Implications:

The perception that certain universities are “kept afloat” by international students can influence policy-making and public opinion. It raises questions about the role of higher education, the balance between domestic and international students, and the long-term strategy of universities in the global education market.


The economic contribution of Chinese students in the UK

Chinese students in the UK – Enrolment Numbers

  • In the academic year 2021-22, there were 151,690 Chinese students enrolled at UK universities, a significant increase from 89,735 in 2014-15. This rise indicates a growing reliance on Chinese students for international student enrolment.


Chinese students in the UK – Growth Rate

  • The number of Chinese students at UK universities increased by 50% to 143,820 in the five years leading up to 2020-21. This rapid growth underscores the substantial role these students play in the international student body within UK higher education.


Chinese students in the UK – Recent Decline:

  • There was a notable decline in the number of Chinese students accepted in 2022, dropping from 13,180 to 11,630. This was the first recorded fall since 2014, suggesting a potential shift in the trend of increasing reliance on Chinese students.


Chinese students in the UK – Financial Contribution

  • The net value of hosting full-time Chinese students was approximately £3.7 billion in 2019. This figure highlights the significant financial contribution made by Chinese students to the UK higher education sector and indicates that their presence is a major factor in the financial stability of many institutions.


The recent decline in new enrolments and the potential risks associated with over-reliance on students from a single country suggest that UK universities may need to diversify their international student base to ensure long-term financial stability and resilience.


Challenges faced by Chinese students in the UK

Chinese students in the UK face a variety of challenges that can impact their overall experience, leading to less-than-optimal outcomes in some cases. These challenges stem from a range of cultural, linguistic, social, and academic factors:


Chinese students in the UKLanguage Barrier

  • Many Chinese students in the UK struggle with English as their second or third language, which can lead to difficulties in communicating fluently, comprehending courses, and framing complex sentences. This language barrier can be a source of demotivation and hinder their academic performance and social integration.


Cultural Differences

  • Chinese students in the UK often find it challenging to adjust to the academic culture.  They might feel alienated or perceive that staff are unresponsive to their needs. The difference in cultural norms and practices between the UK and their home country can lead to feelings of helplessness and exclusion.


Lack of Social Interactions

  • Universities with high levels of diversity sometimes see the formation of small social clusters based on cultural backgrounds. Chinese students may find it difficult to integrate into other social groups, partly due to differing social preferences, such as attitudes towards crowds and alcohol. This lack of social integration can hinder their overall university experience.


Different Teaching Styles

  • Adapting to Western teaching methods can be challenging for Chinese students in the UK. They often face difficulties in group-based activities and expressing opinions in class discussions, sometimes choosing to avoid participation due to fear of making mistakes in English. There’s also a perceived lack of institutional support to help them transition academically and socially.


Financial Concerns

  • The declining value of degrees and uncertainty about obtaining respectable work in China post-graduation have led to concerns about the value for money of their UK education. This has led some students to explore educational opportunities in regions closer to their cultural context, such as Asia, South America, Africa, and the Middle East.


Mental Health Concerns

  • Chinese students in the UK often face linguistic racism and discrimination, which can have severe psychological and emotional impacts. Incidents of verbal abuse and xenophobic remarks have been reported, contributing to a decline in mental health among these students​​.


Impact of COVID-19

  • The pandemic has significantly increased stress and anxiety among Chinese students in the UK, with instances of racism and hatred exacerbating their psychological and academic adjustment challenges. The pandemic has also led to a shift towards online learning, which 100% of those studying solely online reported as being a worse experience compared to pre-Covid conditions. Additionally, 61% of Chinese students in the UK rated their overall experience of studying at a UK university during the pandemic as “bad”.