China recruitment: 2017 health check

by Matt Durnin
East Asia

The majority of agents and UK institutions report growth in applications this year, but a significant minority say that recruitment numbers have fallen.

With the recruitment cycle for the September intake winding down, it’s time for a health check on recruitment in the UK’s largest market for international HE students. From 9 to 23 June we polled 105 agents and 39 representatives from UK international offices about the number of applications received from mainland Chinese students this year.

A narrow majority of both groups reported year-on-year growth in applications from Chinese students (see Chart 1 below). Yet 22 per cent of agents and nearly a third of UK representatives said that their numbers were down compared to a year earlier.

Of those reporting growth, the majority of agents and UK reps reported that a rise in postgraduate applications was the main driver. These findings dovetail with the general trend we’ve seen since the 2010/11 academic year, with Chinese undergraduate enrolments in the UK levelling off while postgraduate enrolments have surged ahead (see Chart 2). Extrapolating from the survey results, it’s likely that the UG-PG gap will continue to widen this year.

Amongst respondents who said that applications have fallen this year, opinions were divided regarding the cause. A majority of agents (55 per cent) said that undergraduate applications were to blame, but 40 per cent pointed to a dip in postgraduate applications. Meanwhile, only a small minority of UK institutions said that postgraduate applications were the problem.



Key takeaways

While some pundits have speculated that Brexit and recent terrorist attacks in the UK may have deterred applications, agents haven’t noticed particular concern in these areas and Baidu web search trends related to UK study remain strong. Instead, most of the cases of declining applications that we are aware of boil down to lapses in engagement with agents and other key partners. As UK institutions face an increasingly competitive recruitment environment in China, it’s important to remember that your key relationships in the market will rarely be self-sustaining and require regular attention to keep them productive.

The overall picture points towards continued growth in UK enrolments from China this year, but there are increasing downside risks on the horizon. China’s overall outbound student mobility appears to cresting and competitor activity in the market is intensifying. As several of our universities learned this year, there is an increasingly small margin for error in the market.

If you have questions about your institution’s recruitment performance or partnerships in China or other markets, please contact us to discuss.

About the Author

Matt Durnin
Head of Research and Consultancy, East Asia
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East Asia

Specialising in the economics of education, Matt works with a team of analysts to provide external clients with the data, analysis, and insights required to succeed in Asia’s dynamic education sector.

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