More Chinese students joining summer school programmes in the UK

by Cathy He
East Asia

There is strong demand for short-term overseas programmes, such as summer schools, and the opportunities this brings for the UK education sector.

© Mat Wright

In early August this year, a WeChat post from a public account (“ukdajiatan”) that described the cities of London, Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh as being highly popular with Chinese students on summer school programmes, attracted more than 100,000 views. Around the same time, China Daily, China’s state-owned English language newspaper, reported twice within three weeks about the growth in groups of Chinese summer school students going to the UK and other countries.

Rising incomes in Mainland China have led to an explosion in the number of Chinese nationals going abroad to study, and the above media attention suggests that there is strong interest in short-term programmes, such as summer schools.

According to our statistics, the number of agents registered as representing UK summer school programmes in Mainland China doubled between 2012 and 2016, while UK student visitor visas issued to Chinese students were up 50 per cent in the 12 months to June 2017, compared to the period a year earlier. This rapid rise in summer school agents reflects strong market demand and confidence in the further growth of this segment of the market.

Registered summer school agents by city, year-end 2016

Source: British Council agent database

Students on summer school programmes are typically at the lower secondary (ages 12-15) and upper secondary (ages 15-18) levels, with these two groups making up around three quarters of all Chinese overseas summer school students. However, recent trends indicate that students participating in these programmes are getting younger and younger, with a growing proportion of primary school children, as well as secondary and university students. While the bulk of students still come from China’s tier 1 and tier 2 cities, the number of participants from smaller cities is growing.

Alongside China’s growing middle-class population, the greater international consciousness of the new generation of parents is also an important reason for growth. Exposing their children to foreign cultures at a young age is seen as an advantage for their children in a highly competitive education environment. 

According to a survey we conducted in China, experiencing overseas culture and expanding their horizons are the main reasons for Chinese nationals to participate in summer school programmes, while improving their language skills and learning to be independent are also key factors.

Another factor that should not be underestimated is summer school programmes as a preliminary to overseas study. More than half of summer school agents said that preparing for overseas study was one of the main reasons students signed up to their programmes, while in previous student surveys over 80 per cent of short-term overseas study participants said they were interested in long-term overseas study at the university or even high school level. Their summer school experience is an important factor for many students in making this decision, or not.

It is therefore important to promote the strengths of the UK’s short-term study programmes in China and to ensure that participants are satisfied with their experience, as these are prospective students for the UK’s schools, colleges and universities.  

These and other findings are discussed in detail in a new report jointly published by the British Council and English UK, which looks at the demand for UK summer school programmes in Mainland China. It takes an in-depth look at this market, including the participating students’ characteristics, the factors that students and their parents take into consideration, how UK summer school operators work with Chinese agents to promote their programmes, and currently unmet demand in the market.

A summary of the report’s key findings and the full report can be found on the SIEM website (subscribers only). The full report is also available for download from the English UK website.

About the Author

Cathy He
Assistant Director Education Marketing, China
, ,
East Asia

Cathy has a track record of successfully facilitating UK-China partnerships. Her expert knowledge of the China market is allied with robust professional relationships with the Chinese education authorities and other industry stakeholders.

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