East Asian students would prefer a delay to the academic year, reports British Council

The update looks at how Covid-19 has influenced overseas study plans in eight East Asian markets

East Asian students could shun the UK to the tune of £2.3billion, says a report released today (Monday) by the British Council.

In the third of its rolling surveys of international student mobility to UK universities, the British Council analysed 15,536 survey responses from China, Hong Kong, Indonesias, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

Respondents were asked how likely they were to cancel or delay their plans to study overseas due to the coronavirus crisis.

Prospective postgraduate students overwhelmingly favour a face-to-face start in January (63%) over an autumn start online (15%). A possible explanation for this is that most postgraduate courses are just one-year long, meaning a disrupted autumn term would constitute a greater portion of the total study experience. These findings could, says the British Council, be seen as a ‘silver lining’ for UK universities since it would mean the financial impact being limited to one year.

Prospective undergraduates were roughly split on the issue – 37% were in favour of an online start in the autumn followed by face-to-face teaching starting in January, and 46% wanted to have their start date delayed until January.

From this data, as well as figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) and the Department for Education (DfE) the British Council were able to present both ‘baseline’ and ‘pessimistic’ scenarios.

The former would involve a 12% decrease in new enrolments from East Asia compared to 2018/19, equating to £463m decline in student expenditure. The pessimistic scenario, however, would see those enrolments down 61% – leading to a £2.3billion drop in student spending.

The issues that most concerned respondents when they considered studying overseas were health and wellbeing, personal safety and finance.

The survey also found that students who had applied through Ucas had more positive feelings about their study plans, and that the UK was likely to lose out to Australia and, to a lesser degree, the US when it came to East Asian students.


‘The current wait and see approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students’

Responding to the British Council predictions, the University and College Union (UCU) said they were further evidence of the need for the government to step in and provide universities with urgent financial help.

A UCU poll released this week showed that over two-thirds (71%) of prospective UK students would like to see a delay to the start of term if it meant more face-to-face teaching. Almost a quarter (23%) of the students polled were worried their university might go bust as a result of the crisis and half (49%) feared their education would suffer as a result of cuts linked to Covid-19.

An earlier report for UCU by London Economics in April warned that universities faced a £2.5bn funding black hole due to lost income from student tuition fees and teaching grants.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “There is a crisis unfolding in higher education and the government is refusing to act. This latest report is more evidence of the serious financial hardship that universities will suffer if the government does not step in.

“The current wait and see approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students and putting tens of thousands of jobs at universities and in the wider economy at risk. Universities have already started cutting jobs and will keep trying to do so as the uncertainty persists, with huge repercussions on local economies that depend on higher education.

“Universities are focusing their efforts on trying to get as many students through their doors in September, yet they are refusing to listen to students in the UK and abroad who say they are worried about what their education will look like and even if their chosen institution can ride out the crisis.”

Earlier British Council surveys covered in China, India and Pakistan. After this update on the impact of Covid-19 on overseas study plans in eight East Asia markets, the British Council will publish results of its survey into the plans of students in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the European Union and wider Europe.

You might also like: International student visas: government has ‘weeks’ to reassure applicants, UUK warns

Leave a Reply

Send an Invite...

Would you like to share this event with your friends and colleagues?


Fireside Chats - Presented by:


Student experience, quality enhancement, accessibility and inclusion

Wednesday, September 29, 12PM (BST)