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China's rapid rise as an international student destination

Student.com report reveals the impending requirement for accommodation as international students flock to China

Posted by Hannah Oakman | September 12, 2016 | International

A new report today reveals that the perception of China among international students has undergone a noticeable shift, with the country becoming an internationally recognised destination for high-quality education. Research gathered by Student.com, the world’s leading marketplace for overseas student accommodation, highlights that international students are increasingly choosing to go to China to study for a full degree, with china currently being the third largest destination for international students worldwide.

China to challenge UK by 2020?

Over the last ten years, the number of international students in China has more than doubled, growing faster than any other leading destination, at an average of 10% a year since 2006. If current trends continue, by 2020 China could challenge the UK as the world’s second most popular destination for international students, as the UK’s own growth rate has averaged at a significantly smaller 3% in the same time period.

Boost in academic reputation

Student.com’s report analyses collated data from official bodies, administrative organizations and educational institutions for the first time, identifying the trends behind China’s rise in popularity with international students. While China is seeing a steady increase in international student numbers, the strongest growth has been among degree-seeking students, whose share has increased from 39% to 46% in the past three years.

Similarly, among this group, the strongest growth in enrolment is at the post-graduate and doctorate levels, suggesting that China is becoming a more attractive research environment.

The international standing of Chinese universities has also improved dramatically over the past five years, with the number of Chinese universities included in major global university rankings rising significantly. This is a key factor in China’s ability to compete with other top university destinations such as the UK and USA as it places China firmly in the same league as these leading countries.



Government support drives growth

The report also shows the extent to which the Chinese government has fostered this development, both by improving the quality of higher education across the country and by increasing the number of scholarship programs for degree-seeking full-time students: in 2015, 40% of all international students new to China received government sponsorship. 

The Student.com report concludes that China’s international student population is only set to increase further. Currently, international students make up only 1.1% of the total student population in China, a much smaller percentage than in other popular destinations (USA, 4.8%; UK, 19.3%, Canada; 21.9%), a figure which indicates ample room for growth as a host nation.

Zhou Dong, CEO of China's University and College Admission System (CUCAS), the official application portal for international students in China, said: “The number of international students in China has increased year-on-year, supporting a positive, mutual understanding between China and other cultures. In the past two years, the Chinese government has actively increased the availability of scholarships, made it possible for foreign students to take on part-time work, simplified visa processes and standardized the assessment of international degrees. All these are important measures to promote education for international students in China.”

Growing demand for accommodation 

Out of the 33.86 million higher education students in China, it is estimated that over half of them need accommodation, most of which is currently provided on-campus, offering room for opportunity in the private sector. The rise in numbers of international students travelling to non-tier 1 Chinese cities only adds to this demand, with a record 13 cities and provinces hosting over 10,000 international students in 2015.

Luke Nolan, co-founder and CEO of Student.com, said: “Over the years that we’ve been working here, it has been fascinating to see China become a hugely popular student destination and a powerful force in international education. We’re always monitoring trends in student demand, and since I studied here in 2005,  there’s been a noticeable shift in the way that overseas students perceive Chinese higher education. We expect the student housing market in China to develop and grow in tandem with this development, offering unprecedented opportunities for developers of private, purpose-built student accommodation.” 

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