A study conducted by Hong Kong’s Lingnan University Institute of Policy Studies researchers alleges that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to a shift in Mainland China and Hong Kong students choosing to study in East Asia higher education institutions but that Macau has not benefitted from that trend.
Titled ‘Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on international higher education and student mobility’ the study collected opinions from 2,739 mainland and Hong Kong respondents with 84 per cent stating they had no interest to study abroad after the pandemic.
In 2019 some 518,300 higher education students from Mainland China went to study abroad, with 2020 expected to ‘reach a new high record’, however, with the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese students cancelled or changed their plans of studying abroad for safety reasons and travel restrictions.
‘The barriers for students to pursue their further degrees overseas include travel bans, visa restrictions and campus lockdowns in destination countries, including students and their families’ worries on health and safety. Some practical reasons, such as the delays in English tests, also prevent students from completing the application on time,’ the study states.
The situation has already led to higher education institutions from major destination countries, such as the US, the UK and Australia, to anticipate a considerable decrease in incoming international students, especially mainland Chinese.
Meanwhile, for those who still intended to study abroad, many were changing their preferred study destination from institutions in western countries to those located in east Asia.
For the researchers, some reasons for the shift in preference towards East Asian institutions could be attributed to mainland and Hong Kong students being mainly funded by families for their international education and parents hope that they can be near their children for safety reasons.
‘Although travelling to an English learning environment is commonly offered by universities in the West, the success of universities in Asia in research and internationalisation could become an attraction for students in Mainland China and Hong Kong when conceiving their overseas learning plans,’ the study argues.
However, the study argues that the beneficial effects of proximity for East Asian countries are not evenly distributed amongst all higher education sectors in the region, with Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan benefitting the most from this shift, and previous popular destinations such as Macau and South Korea, seeing their attractiveness reduced.
According to UNESCO Institute of Statistics between 1998 and 2018, Macau higher education institutions received some 197,346 outbound, Chinese students, making it the 10th most popular destination for mainland students, with 461,392 having studied in South Korea, the 6th most popular destination.
However, according to the research survey, only less than 1 per cent of ‘willing-to-study-abroad respondents’ Macau as their upcoming study destinations, and 3 per cent chose South Korea.
‘A possible reason for the decreasing ranking of South Korea and Macau amid the COVID-19 pandemic might be the influence of Mainland China and Hong Kong students’ ranking-oriented mind-set,’ the study argues.
‘When they prefer studying abroad near their homes (East Asia) due to the pandemic, they want to go to the countries and regions with more top-ranking universities. In this sense, South Korea and Macau with less high-ranking universities lose the attraction to Mainland China and Hong Kong students’.