More Chinese applicants than Europeans in British universities



New figures from UCAS show a threefold increase in the number of Chinese applicants from 2013

by Finn McRedmond

Chinese students show their support for Xi Jinping in Manchester. Credit: Getty

More Chinese students have applied to study at UK universities this year than the sum total of students from European Union countries combined.

New figures released by UCAS show that a record 31,400 Chinese students applied to UK universities, marking a 193% increase on 2013.

In 2022, there were more Chinese applicants than Europeans

Despite the Covid pandemic and China’s strict lockdown regime, the upward trend of Chinese applicants over the past decade has only continued. Chinese students are particularly drawn to British universities that rank high in global rankings, said Higher Education Policy Institute director Nick Hillman. English classes and the growth of China’s middle class over the past 20 years have also had an impact.

But the figures are likely to cause concern as worries grow over the UK’s reliance on fees for Chinese students. If relations between the UK and China deteriorated seriously, “a very cold wind would blow over British universities”, says Hillman, “especially the most prestigious ones”.

Earlier this week, at a conference in Australia, Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said: “We would be failing ourselves if we did not take into account the particular challenges posed by the potential deterioration of relations with China” .

In contrast, the number of applicants from the EU has almost halved over the past two years. This year, 23,160 students applied to UK universities, down 93.1% from 2020.

The trend is mainly explained by Brexit. While Britain was a member of the EU, students in the bloc were eligible for tuition loans and the same fees as UK students. As of August 2021, EU students face the same higher fees as all international students and cannot access tuition loans.

UK universities can now look to other major overseas markets to expand their revenue streams. India provided 11,880 applicants this year, making it the largest source country for applicants after the EU and China. Another fast-growing market is Nigeria, where requests have increased by 58% compared to last year.