Overseas study attractive among Chinese at earlier age

Chinese students are increasingly willing to head overseas for studies at an earlier age, a new survey indicates.

Until recently, Chinese students mainly studied abroad for master's or doctoral degrees. With China's economic explosion and an increase in affluent families, more Chinese students are now seeking to study abroad at an earlier age, the survey found.

Education International Cooperation Group, a domestic education services provider, surveyed more than 2,000 students and their parents from 18 of the country's large and middle-sized cities, in an attempt to gauge their thoughts on students studying abroad at an earlier ageļ¼those aged 15 to 18.

"For quite a long time, people believed that only those students who have low grades choose to study abroad," said Zhan Jianguo, general manager of EIC Group's Shanghai branch. "Actually, this situation has already changed over the past few years, and students' overall quality has improved significantly."

The survey found that about half of the students polled have a grade point average above 85, which meets the basic requirements for applying to the top 50 universities in the world, including Harvard, Columbia, Oxford and Cambridge.

In addition to the good academic performance, more than 70 per cent of the students polled had received awards for such things as sports, music and the arts.

Most students said they were willing to set off from home and study abroad, though they were in the younger age bracket. More than 90 per cent of the polled students said they have positive attitudes toward studying abroad, and among them about 56 per cent said they were willing to do so.

"Compared with China's education system, Western education focuses on developing students' potential and improving their critical thinking ability. That's why a growing number of students have gone abroad for studies in recent years," Zhan said.

Students' optimistic attitude helps them overcome the problems and challenges that might arise when they study in an unfamiliar country, Zhan added.

Meanwhile, the poll also found that parents who are well-situated financially and socially are more likely to allow their children to chase their dreams overseas.

In the survey, these parents had higher social status with better education and higher income. Nearly 70 per cent of these parents had a bachelor's degree or above, and about 65 per cent reported having decision-making power in companies.

Nearly half of the polled families had annual income of 400,000 yuan (S$80,000) or above, and among these about 20 per cent earned more than 800,000 yuan each year.

The United States, Australia, Canada and the UK are the most popular study destinations for Chinese students.

Students in the survey said they paid more attention to a school's ranking, while parents focused on the choice of academic major and safety issues, the poll found.

"The cost for overseas high school is high, but I think that's a helpful way for children to receive different education modes and adapt to various environments," said Wang Yun, who said she planned to send her son to study at a US high school.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Education showed that 413,900 Chinese students studied abroad last year, an increase of 3.58 per cent from the previous year. The number is forecast to reach 500,000 this year.

Meanwhile, the number of students who will go abroad to study at a younger age also will increase, experts said.

According to the Open Doors Report on international educational exchanges, which is published annually by the US Institute of International Education, in the 2012-13 academic year, 235,597 Chinese students studied in the US, and 39.8 per cent of them were undergraduates. Both figures represent an increase over the previous year.