The roll-out of the vaccines in 2021, especially in the leading destinations of international students such as the United States and the United Kingdom, is renewing prospects of international student mobility. A snapshot poll conducted in March compares how Chinese prospective students are making decisions about pursuing graduate management education (GME) compared to August 2020.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, globally mobile Chinese students drove the enrollment growth at many business schools around the world. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 erected barriers and increased uncertainties about the global mobility of talent. Now with the roll-out of the vaccines in 2021, especially in the leading destinations of international students such as the US and the UK, there is optimism about restoring mobility over time. With the opening of F1 student visa appointments in the mainland China on the 1st week of May, more students are confident about studying in the U.S.
Given the uncertainty of the pandemic and related travel/visa restrictions, many prospective students had to adapt their graduate management education journeys and preferences. In order to gain insights into how Chinese prospective students are adapting their decisions for pursuing graduate management education (GME), the GMAC China team conducted two snapshot surveys through the official GMAT WeChat (GMAT考试官方社区). Wave I of the survey was conducted in August 2020 and received 352 responses, while Wave II was conducted in March 2021 and received 301 responses.
Chinese candidates more willing to consider alternative destinations
While comparing the two waves, the proportion of respondents indicating that their plans for GME aren’t impacted has remained same (37%). One of the key changes is that fewer Chinese prospective students are considering postponing their GME plans this year (27%) vs last year (35%). However, a higher proportion of respondents this year (24%) are considering changing their destination as compared to last year (18%).
The UK and the US remain the top global destinations, with Hong Kong and Singapore as regional preferences
Prior to the pandemic, political tensions between the US and China were already reducing Chinese students’ interest in studying in the US. During this time, the UK continued to gain traction. In 2020, respondents identified the UK (56%) as the most preferred destination, followed by the US (49%). Regional destinations such as Hong Kong S.A.R. China and Singapore also showed significant popularity. These preferences often seem to stem from continued concerns about health and safety. Data shows that the preference for Hong Kong S.A.R. China as a GME destination increased dramatically between Wave I (25%) and Wave II (38%). The balancing act of remaining closer to home and yet gaining high quality international education seems to support the preference for Hong Kong S.A.R. among Mainland Chinese candidates.
In sum, COVID-19 presented several challenges to the plans of Chinese GME candidates. However, Chinese candidates’ aspirations for getting a high-quality graduate management education with global learning experience remain strong. The disruption and uncertainty created by the pandemic prompted Chinese candidates to change their study destinations rather than postpone their GME applications. While the UK and the US remain popular among Chinese GME candidates, regional destinations such as Hong Kong S.A.R. China and Singapore have gained traction due to their proximity to home.