CHINA’S AGENCY BOOM
Studying abroad had the label of
being ‘exclusive to the rich’ or ‘second
choice for students with poor grades’ relatively cheaper. Thailand and Malaysia are much chea-per
and others such as Germany, because of free tuition
policies for public education, are very affordable.”
It’s not just the socio-economic status of applicants that
is changing for agents. The prestige of being a sea turtle (a
Chinese person who has studied overseas) is fading.
Research from Princeton University researcher Chen
Mingyu published last year found that local employers
were more likely to call job seekers who graduated from
Chinese universities as opposed to foreign ones. Mean-while,
a 2018 survey from Zhaopin Limited and think-tank
The Center for China and Globalization showed 76
per cent of respondents who studied abroad did so to
“learn the culture and life of other countries and enrich
The “fierce competition of domestic education resour-ces”
– which many assume is a popular reason for Chinese
students to study abroad – motivated just 17 per cent.
“There’s been a rise in interest in non-traditional pro-grams,”
says Billy Xu, assistant to the managing director
at Index Education Services, part of Sower International
Education Group, one of China’s leading larger agencies.
“Students want to follow their creativity. They want to
stand out and be a bit different from the rest. So you start
to see things like sports, art and music programs, as well as
ones for the media and creative industries.”
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The Great Firewall, which continues to leave parts of the
internet difficult to legally access in China, can also make
finding information hard.
“It’s a bit like buying flour at the supermarket,” Violet Wu,
who runs an agency in Lanzhou, Gansu province, explains.
“There are millions of videos that teach you how to bake
bread on the internet, but you will still go to the bakery to buy
bread baked by others. Maybe you don’t want to take the time
to bake bread, maybe you don’t have time to learn how to
bake bread, or maybe you’re not sure you can bake delicious
bread. So you might as well give it to a professional to do it.”
Wu’s agency is an example of how studying abroad being
the preserve of the wealthy in China is changing. Gansu
is China’s poorest province in terms of GDP per capita,
sandwiched between the Gobi desert in the north and the
Qilian Mountains on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau in the
south. It’s a far cry from the traditional bases for agents in
the verdant coastal east or sub-tropical south.
“When I was child in the 80s and 90s, China had its first
craze of studying abroad, which was mainly state-funded
and purely elite,” says Wu.
“At the beginning of the 21st century, it became fashio-nable
for people to study abroad at their own expense,” he
continues. “A large number of children with poor grades
and rich parents appeared in foreign universities. In China
studying abroad had the label of being ‘exclusive to the rich’
or ‘the second choice for students with poor grades’.”
But in recent years, Wu relates, the ordinary working class
became more able to study abroad. “China’s overseas study
market has returned to the main purpose of learning advan-ced
knowledge and high tech in other countries.”
Price is however still “the most important point” for
families who want to send their children to study overseas.
Wu estimates that a four-year undergraduate degree and
associated costs totals around 1.5 million RMB (£165,000),
which represents about 10 years’ worth of savings for a
middle class family with a double income.
“The United States, Britain, Australia and Canada are very
expensive. Countries such as Japan and South Korea are
Despite tensions, the US remains the most
popular destination for Chinese students
PHOTO: IES ABROAD