Thursday 09 April 2020


A new survey of nearly 11,000 Chinese students considering higher education in the UK reveals 39 per cent of students are undecided about cancelling their study plans.

Commenting on the survey, which was carried out between 27 March to 03 April 2020, the author Matt Durnin said this group of students “is where the battle will be fought over the coming months in order to maintain enrolments over the coming academic year.”

Mr Durnin, the Global Head of Insights and Consultancy at the British Council, flagged that of the 1770 respondents who are already studying outside of China this year, 13 per cent were unlikely to return and 28 per cent remain undecided about coming back - a situation described as “possibly a cause for concern” for higher education institutions.

“This rapidly evolving crisis has potentially severe implications for higher education, with growing uncertainty about when and how we can resume operations,” he added. 

China is the largest source of international students in the UK, with 115,014 study visas issued to the Chinese students in 2019 – 45 per cent of such international visas. 

The report acknowledges a bias towards postgraduate students who make up 85 per cent of respondents, whereas Chinese students in the UK are typically split 50 / 50 between undergrads and postgrads. However, there were no significant differences in how the two groups answered the questions.

Respondents were already considered ‘in the pipeline’ to study in the UK with 98 per cent either having applied or already studying internationally, most of them in the UK.

Of the 8481 respondents who have applied to study this year, 22 per cent say they are likely or very likely to cancel their study plans and 39 per cent are undecided. However, 27 per cent say they are not at all likely to cancel, or unlikely to cancel.

While students who are further along the application process are less likely to cancel, this trend poses a challenge to institutions who may be looking to pick up late applications.

When students were asked about their concerns over applying to the UK:

  • 79 per cent say they were very concerned about health and well-being; 
  • 87 per cent are very concerned about personal safety; 
  • 86 per cent are concerned about finances;
  • 70 per cent concerned about applications difficulties.

British Council Senior Advisor on Education Research, Michael Peak said: “This will be a challenging year for international higher education, globally and in the UK.   We know that international students are incredibly resilient, but like everyone at this time, they need support and reassurance that whenever they engage with UK education, they will be part of a high-quality learning experience.”


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Notes to Editor

The survey was run by the British Council research and consultancy team in Beijing and solicited 10,808 responses from students in China between 27 March and 03 April.

For the full report visit:

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We work with over 100 countries in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Last year we reached over 65 million people directly and 731 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. We make a positive contribution to the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.

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