The Rising Number of Chinese Students in the UK – What Does This Mean for the Country?

By Julie Sand

Digitally-driven consumer

Not only are the numbers of Chinese students in the UK set to reach an all-time high this autumn, but recent reports have shown that there are now more students from China than students from all non-British EU countries combined. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, applications from China have increased by 30% in the last year, surpassing applications from Northern Irish students as well.  In the last ten years, Chinese students studying in the UK has more than doubled, amounting to a total of 106,530 students in 2018. 

The University of Manchester has the largest population of Chinese students in Europe. With about 5,000 Chinese students out of a total of just over 40,000, about one in eight students are Chinese. “The university is well known in China,” said Richard Cotton, director of student recruitment and outreach at Manchester. “It’s partly because of the football,” he said. Then in 2015, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, visited the National Graphene Institute (NGI) at Manchester University. “We did see a significant increase in applications [from China] after that” (1). 

So why are Chinese students looking to come to the UK to study?

  1. With the recent tensions between China and the U.S., both Chinese companies and investors are withdrawing from China and likewise, students are choosing to study in the UK over the U.S. Chinese students see greater benefits in gaining a degree from the UK.
  2. With the de-value of the pound following Brexit, this has led to an increased number of international students – especially Chinese students – applying to attend universities in the UK. It has become cheaper for them to attend university here.  
  3. The UK’s higher education has been appealing to Chinese students for many years as they can complete the undergraduate and postgraduate in a shorter time period compared to if they were to attend university in China, U.S. or Hong Kong. 

What does this mean for the UK? 

As we continue to see a growing number of Chinese students in the UK, this brings a great deal of opportunities for UK businesses. The Universities Minister, Chris Skidmore, said: “International students bring huge cultural and economic benefits to the UK. These figures show we are making good progress in our ambition to open up world-leading higher education to anyone who has the potential to benefit from it and I’m confident that we can go even further” (2).

Chinese students are a very influential consumer segment for UK businesses. They prefer to rent purpose-built flats as opposed to living in halls on campus and some parents even purchase properties for their children while they’re studying. In London, real estate businesses have discovered that Chinese citizens are buying luxury properties in the heart of London with 24-hour concierge service, key entry cards and security cameras for their children studying here (3).

Visit Britain predicted that Chinese students bring an average of 3.3 visitors to the UK each year, with the potential to attract £27,000 in revenue from family and friends. The Chinese are known to be a wealthy customer segment and big spenders within the luxury market. On top of this, Chinese students prefer to eat out with their peers bringing in a strong revenue stream to restaurants as well. 

UK brands looking to attract Chinese students to their stores have to be willing to invest in engaging today’s Chinese consumer. They are known to be the most digitally-driven consumers in the world and therefore a China-specific strategy is essential for success. 

How do you take advantage of this?

  • Cater to their preferred payment method and implement WeChat Pay and Alipay into your store, making it easy for them to make a purchase in the UK
  • Advertise on Chinese social media channels where they are active and most engaged 
  • Partner with Chinese influencers to endorse your brand 

Are you thinking about tapping into China's digital generation?

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