Monday 01 November 2021


Chinese students who are interested in overseas culture are substantially more likely to want to study abroad than those who do not express such an interest, says new British Council research.

Measuring the cultural dividend: How does interest in UK culture affect Chinese study decisionsexplores the links between Chinese people’s interest in overseas culture and their desire to study abroad.

Chinese students interested or very interested in overseas culture were three times as likely to say they were considering studying abroad as those who were less interested in overseas culture.

The report finds that Chinese people's interest in overseas culture has risen, with the bulk of the overall rise due to changes in China’s smaller cities, which in recent years have seen a faster pace of development than their larger counterparts.

78 per cent of Chinese students who saw the UK as having the most attractive culture said that the UK was their first-choice study destination.  This was compared to only 26 per cent of all surveyed students who declared that they were at least seriously considering overseas study. Students who named literature and history among their cultural interests were particularly likely to choose the UK as their preferred destination.

Those rating a particular country’s culture as the ‘most attractive’ had a much higher chance of also describing that country as their preferred overseas study destination.  This confirms previous findings in Measuring the Cultural Dividend published in 2017.  

Matt Durnin, Global Head of Insights and Consultancy, British Council, said, “When we look ahead to the post-pandemic era, this research should serve as a reminder that immersive cultural experiences remain central to overseas study. Despite the challenges that Chinese students have faced since the start of 2020, we still see strong interest in studying abroad, as evidenced by our survey findings and recent UK university application data.”

This new report finds that the UK overtook the US to be named as Chinese students’ first-choice study destination in 2019 and maintained this position in 2021. But among the general Chinese student population, interest in overseas study was sharply lower in 2021 compared to before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Students who thought the UK had handled the pandemic “relatively well” or “very well” were almost twice as likely to want to study in the country, as those who said the opposite.

Despite some negative opinions of the UK’s Covid-19 response, the country remains the most attractive country for Chinese students considering studying abroad, which is a positive sign for the recovery of Chinese student numbers after the pandemic is over.

 All Anglophone countries fell in popularity in terms of culture between 2019 and 2021, with Japan, France and Germany more likely to be named as people's favourite overseas country for culture. However, when Chinese people are asked specifically about their attitude towards media, celebrities or sports, the US is still seen as more attractive than any other country.


Notes to Editor

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language. In 2019-2020 we reached over 75 million people directly and 758 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive a 14.5 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.