International schools in Southeast Asia are becoming attractive destinations for Chinese students to gain a Western education. 

Chinese well-off families seek Western education and citizenship for their children

According to new data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) published this July, the organization operating application processes for British universities, China’s applications increased by 10% to 31,400.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) cited Aaron Koh, an education professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, on September 8. Many middle-class Chinese parents who have studied abroad are eager to invest in their children’s education to increase their chances of admission to Western universities.

SCMP cited Jenson Zhang, founder of Vision Education, a Chiang Mai-based agency connecting Chinese students to international schools in Thailand, “Almost all Chinese families consulting us are aiming for admission to Western universities.”

The couple Jenson Zhang and Jing Chen intends to seek Canadian passports for their children to attend Canadian universities.

Besides a prestigious degree, parents like Vision Education’s Jenson Zhang and his spouse Jing Chen seek citizenship and the benefits that come with it in the place of study as a sort of stability and the first step toward more significant opportunities.

SCMP cited Jenny, a Shanghai-based mother who moved to Malaysia with her four-year-old daughter Miaomiao in 2019. The IB program would also help Miaomiao pave the way to universities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. “Many living in top-tier cities just want to leave the country.”

SCMP cited Sean Li, a Youtuber who moved from Xi’an city, Shaanxi Province in central China, to Chiang Mai city, Thailand, in 2012. Chinese parents like him were willing to do everything they could to ensure their children could study at prestigious Western universities. 

The ultimate goal for those parents is to get their children into Western universities, with some even eyeing citizenship.

Chinese families choose Southeast Asia study while awaiting Western educational approvals

Beyond the traditional favorites of the United States, Canada, and Australia, more Chinese parents consider regional neighbors such as Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia as secondary and tertiary education destinations for their children.

Aaron Koh, an education professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that more K-12 international schools have opened in Singapore since 2019. Many schools are affiliated with famous Western institutions. For example, Singapore’s Dover Court International School is affiliated with Nord Anglia Education, a London-based brand that owns the British International School of Kuala Lumpur (BSKL).

These K-12 schools are considered stepping stones for students seeking admission to top universities worldwide.

Southeast Asia’s secondary education benefits from using English as a second language in Singapore and Malaysia and globally associating with well-known educational brands.

SCMP cited Jenson Zhang, Vision Education’s founder, that many parents selected Thailand simply because their immigration applications to Australia or Canada were pending.

Well-off Chinese parents consider the quality of tertiary education very important

Jason Tan, an education professor from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), said the city state’s universities rank among the top tier in Asia and globally, making them attractive to well-off Chinese families. 

This year, the New Oriental reported private educational service incorporation in China. 14% of 8,610 applicants who wanted to study abroad chose Singapore, over doubling the 6% in 2015.

New Oriental also noted that 27% of Chinese students intend to study abroad in 2022 for secondary education. The most recent figure resulted from a rising trend eight years ago. It was interrupted by the COVID pandemic in the last two years when travel was severely affected. 

Cheaper school expenses were one of the reasons for Southeast Asian choices

SCMP reported a Kasetsart University research published in 2022. China has been Thailand’s primary source of international students since 2006, doubling in nine years from 5,611 in 2009 to 11,993 in 2019. This demographic represents more than 40% of all overseas students in Thailand.

Vision Education’s Jenson Zhang said Thailand has also emerged as a more reasonable choice, with foreign school prices ranging from 40,000 to 80,000 yuan (roughly $5,600 to $11,220) per year.

According to SCMP, the British International School of Kuala Lumpur (BSKL). The BSKL was one of Malaysia’s top international schools. However, its annual tuition was 100,700 Malaysian ringgit (roughly $21,700) for grade 12 students. It was less expensive than China’s 250,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan (roughly $35,000 to $42,000) per year for classes 10-12.

SCMP cited Dr. Mike O’Connor, principal of the British International School of Kuala Lumpur (BSKL), “We’ve seen a steady rise in Chinese students throughout the school’s recent history.” They received many requests from Chinese parents even before the COVID pandemic.

O’Connor continued, “We’ve witnessed increased inquiry traffic from China and educational agencies,” he said. “And the enrolment rate of Chinese students has soared more than 20 per cent in the 2022-23 school year.”

Shanghai-based mother Jenny selected Malaysia because of its “affordability and geographical proximity to China.” 

Jenny stated that primary school tuition in Malaysia was roughly 110,000 yuan (about $15,300) per year, which was half of what she would have paid for equal education in Shanghai.

 Overseas studying students lack emotional support, and family ties effects

Youtuber Sean Li in Thailand said that families becoming separated is sometimes the price parents pay for pursuing more affordable Western-style education for their children.

Li said divided families are for mothers to stay with their children in Chiang Mai and fathers to make money in China. That type of physical separation has had long-term harmful consequences for the children. Additionally, children adapting to a new environment usually lack emotional support from their families.

China’s restrictive policies increased Chinese overseas studying choices

SCMP cited Dr. Mike O’Connor, principal of the British International School of Kuala Lumpur (BSKL). Restrictive policies on admission to top international schools in China and rising educational costs have contributed to an increase in Chinese students in overseas international schools.

Professor Aaron Koh said policy changes in China are a critical cause of the wave of migration.

According to the Institute of International Education’s (IIE) Spring 2022 Snapshot on International Educational Exchange in June, less than 25% of institutions noted plans to send students to China due to persistent travel restrictions. 

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