Tuesday 09 June 2020


  • Prospective postgraduate students overwhelmingly prefer to delay plans for a face-to-face start in January 2021
  • 39 per cent of students from China are still undecided about cancelling their study plans
  • Students from Indonesia and Taiwan most likely to delay or cancel their overseas study plans.

UK universities will likely have nearly 14,000 fewer new enrolments from East Asia in 2020-2021 compared to the 2018-19 academic year, leading to a decline of £463 million in spending on tuition and living expenses, says the latest survey by the British Council’s International Education Services.

The new findings represent a decline of 12 per cent in student numbers choosing to study in the UK.

Following on from recent student surveys in China, India and Pakistan on the impact of Covid-19, the British Council polled a further 15,536 students with outbound study plans across eight East Asia markets: Mainland China, Hong Kong SAR, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

These eight markets accounted for 52 per cent of new non-EU international students at UK higher education institutions in the 2018/19 academic year.

 Key findings:

 29 per cent of respondents indicated that they are at least somewhat likely to delay or cancel their overseas study plans this year;

  • 35 per cent said that they are ‘neither likely nor unlikely’ to do so. These figures, however, varied widely across study levels and markets.
  • Prospective postgraduate students also overwhelmingly favour a face-to-face start in January (63 per cent) over an autumn start online (15 per cent).
  • Undergraduate students are more closely split: 37 per cent prefer the online start in autumn, compared to 46 per cent preferring a delayed January start.
  • Compared to survey findings from four weeks ago, students from China are still indecisive, with 39 per cent still saying they were ‘neither likely nor unlikely’ to cancel their overseas study plans.  

 Commenting on this latest survey, which was carried out between 19 April to 15 May 2020, the author Matt Durnin said,

 ‘Prospective international students are facing a lot of uncertainty, but many are clearly trying to find a way to keep their overseas study plans.  There is a window of opportunity over the next two months to create a greater sense of certainty about the upcoming academic year.  If responses are clear and quickly communicated to prospective students, UK higher education will face a much more manageable scenario.’

The findings show that students from Indonesia and Taiwan were most likely to delay or cancel their overseas study plans, with nearly half of prospective postgraduate students saying they are at least ‘somewhat likely’ to delay or cancel their overseas study plans.

Hong Kong stood out as the market with the most positive sentiments – 57 per cent said that they are at least ‘somewhat likely’ to keep their plans to study abroad. The findings demonstrate the challenges Covid-19 is having on the UK’s international education sector. Recovery will be slower than decline and the potential short-term shock to the system may take three or four years to recalibrate.

Notes to Editor

Tuition fee expenditure is calculated as total non-EU fees (HESA Financial Record 2018/19) divided by the number of non-EU students (HESA Student Record 2018/19).

Student living costs are based on the Student Income & Expenses Survey 2014 to 2015, adjusted as per UK Revenue from Education Related Exports and TNE Activity 2015, and further adjusted based on inflation between 2014 and 2018 using the Bank of England’s inflation calculator.

The survey was run by the British Council International Education Services Insights and Consultancy team in Beijing from 19 April to 15 May.  This is part of a global rolling survey which previously covered China, India and Pakistan.

For the full report, please visit:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9jg7ItgjQs&feature=youtu.be 

For more information, please contact nicola.norton@britishcouncil.org

About the British Council

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. Last year we reached over 80 million people directly and 791 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 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.