The United Kingdom’s literature, history and traditions are its strongest cultural advantages in attracting Chinese students to study here, according to a new report on the impact of cultural interests on study decisions in China,
‘Measuring Our Cultural Dividends, How does interest in UK culture impact Chinese study decisions?’ analysed nine million user-generated posts on the Sina Weibo microblogging website and conducted an online survey of 5,000 people to explore perceptions of UK culture and other competing study destinations in the world’s largest student recruitment market.
The volume of posts relating to UK culture on Weibo is second only to the US, and the UK ranked among the three most popular foreign cultures, with a particularly strong draw for respondents interested in literature, history and tradition. The social media analysis also showed that the UK generated the highest proportion of positive social media buzz of all the major countries or regions tracked.
UK study accounted for nearly a third of all discussion of overseas study on Weibo, suggesting that the UK brand recognition punches above its weight in the early stages of the decision-making process.
The survey respondents ranked ‘innovation and technology’ as the UK’s second-most attractive cultural aspect, but both the US and Germany were seen as comparatively stronger in these areas. The image of ‘history and tradition’ that draws some students may be interpreted as old-fashioned by others.
While the survey findings consistently identified university ranking and education quality as the most important decision-making factor for students, actual discussions of overseas study tend to emphasise other issues. 23,000 Chinese Weibo posts mentioning positive aspects of UK study showed that the second most popular topic was ‘romance’, ahead of education quality, course structure and scholarships. This is a reminder that study decisions are part of a larger life narrative that extends far beyond the immediate objectives of education and career, even if students tend to externally rationalise their decisions in these terms.
Matt Durnin, report author and Head of Research and Consultancy, East Asia, British Council, said: “Our research shows that the UK punches far above its weight in terms of initial interest for overseas study, only narrowly trailing the US in terms of social media buzz and study destination preference. But there is a clear mismatch between this initial level of interest and actual student flows, with Australia and Canada performing far better in reality than our indicators of perceptions would suggest.”
The research shows that initial interest in UK study is much higher than actual student mobility would indicate. This is likely due to several factors including:
Awareness of UK study is high because of its historical reputation and a large investment in general marketing over the past few decades;
Specific barriers in the UK may be steering prospective students to other destinations. In particular the UK has less appealing post-study work visa policies than its major competitors.
The research also showed younger respondents showing stronger preference for Asian countries and distinct generational differences - older respondents were more drawn to French and German culture, while younger respondents were more likely to favour nearby Asian countries.