Chinese International Education Market: Snapshot

As the Chinese international education market landscape changes, Australia needs to be attracting Chinese students into its junior and senior school sectors if it hopes to remain competitive in the tertiary sector, writes the Australian Trade Commission’s Eliza Chui.

An international education is at the core of the ‘Chinese dream’. Increased financial affordability, shortage of quality domestic educational resources and enthusiastic recruitment efforts by foreign countries continue to fuel Chinese aspirations for study abroad. It is no longer confined to the elites but becoming affordable and accessible to beyond the middle class.

China is now the largest source country of international students globally accounting about 14 percent of international student population worldwide according to the 2012 Development of China’s Study Abroad’s annual report. 

The year of 2012 saw a 17 percent increase over the previous years in the number of Chinese students going abroad for studies, totalling 399,600 according to the Chinese Ministry of Education’s figures.


The study abroad market is now going through a phase of diversification in terms of level of studies, discipline of studies, and study destinations.

Securing the tertiary market

University studies remain the predominant level of studies.

However, Chinese families are sending their children younger and earlier to an overseas country for high school – and even primary school – studies. This is to better prepare them in securing a place in a top foreign university.

The choice of country for high school education is effectively the choice of country for tertiary education. As indicated in an Austrade market research in the Chinese demand for overseas high school education, the school market segment is now a key to secure long-term market share sustainability. Inspiring Chinese families to choose Australia as a high school study destination is more critical than ever.

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Return on investment

Unlike the earlier generations, the child/student has now a bigger say in deciding where and what to study. The younger generation has taken on a more global outlook that sees their study choices extended to a wider range of disciplines. This is a welcoming trend after years of concentration in business-related studies by Chinese students.

Future employability is however noted as a key factor in deciding on field of studies and study destinations. Programs offering work experience and internship present strong appeal.

Great importance is attached to return of investment through job outcomes and career options. Illustrative of this point is the positive reception to the Austrade careers fairs held in Australia and China for graduating students and alumni.

The most popular study destinations remain to be the USA, UK, Australia and Canada.


The mobility of Chinese students is, however, extending to a much wider range of countries around the world. These include Western countries like France, Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand but Asian countries are increasingly popular for their affordability, close proximity and ease of cultural adjustments.

Key Asian destinations include Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and Hong Kong.

After several challenging years, there is a rebound of interest in Australia from Chinese students.

The 2013 EIC Study Destinations Preference Survey, now shows Australia as the third preferred study destinations for Chinese students.

The year of 2012-2013 saw an overall increase of 22 percent in the Australian student visa applications lodged by Chinese applicants offshore, presenting a brighter and more encouraging picture for the Australian international education sector.

The growth was nonetheless concentrated in postgraduate studies with undergraduate and school studies lagging behind. This suggests that Australia has not gained grounds in the ‘go-younger-and-earlier’ trend. How to capture the imagination of the younger generation in China is a critical issue to be addressed.


The acceptance of Gaokao (China’s National College Entrance Examination) by certain Australian universities does achieve that and has created widespread discussion at various levels in China for the last two years. There is a genuine appreciation of their national qualification being recognised by top universities in the Western World. Chinese families see it as a new pathway and option for Chinese students.

Joint delivery programmes

At the front of joint program and transnational education program delivery, Australian providers are facing challenges arising from not just tightened regulations but also strong competition. New players from competitor countries are willing and ready to try out new models of cooperation that aim at meeting the internationalisation agenda of Chinese institutions.

Programs combining exchanges and dual-degree offerings to achieve genuine two-way flow are on the rise. The part-China and part-Australia joint program model pioneered so successfully by Australian providers in the past decade is no longer the only game in town.

Looking ahead, the outlook is positive but challenges diminishing no less.

The Australian education sector has been a leader in the international education scene known for its innovative thinking and proven in its delivery. Re-invigorating Australia’s innovation in international education delivery in the light of the changing aspirations in China seems to be the key.

*Eliza Chui is the Australian Trade Commission’s Education Commissioner for North Asia and Consul (Education) with the Australian Consulate-General Shanghai. Eliza is based in Shanghai.


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