Nearly one in six international students worldwide are Chinese

My daughter is six years old and I’m already thinking not just about where she should go to secondary school but where she should go to university.

I’m Chinese but my husband and I live in London so it’s very possible that our daughter will end up at a university outside China, perhaps in the UK or the US.

If she does, she will be part of a growing trend. There are about 4.5 million international students around the world, and nearly one in six of those come from China. Education has always been a core part of the Chinese value system. Years of economic growth have encouraged a burgeoning upper and middle class. They are ambitious for themselves and their offspring and have the money, means and motivation to pay for the best education.

Parents across Asia including in India, Malaysia and Indonesia follow a similar pattern. Overall, more than half of students currently attending universities outside their home country come from Asia.

Many universities compete with each other to attract the best and brightest international students

There are many reasons for parents to want their child to study overseas. Some want them to learn a new language. Others see an international education as a route to greater prosperity, a better job and a more successful career.   

In HSBC’s latest Value of Education report, the US tops the list of the countries that parents said they were most likely to consider for their child’s university education abroad, followed by the UK, Australia, Canada and Germany.

Many universities compete with each other to attract the best and brightest international students. Motivated and capable students may help to lift academic standards. There is also a direct financial benefit to the host university and country. In the 2014/15 academic year about a million foreign students attended a US university: the Institute of International Education think tank estimates that they contributed about USD30.8 billion to the US economy in tuition fees and living expenses.

While universities in the US and UK continue to exert the greatest pull, the increasing quality of education in many Asian countries means some Asian students are selecting universities closer to home. Nine of the top 100 universities in the 2015/2016 Times Higher Education World University Rankings are based in Asia (excluding Australia and New Zealand).

Some universities offer bursaries and scholarships to tempt international students. In many cases, however, parents bear a large proportion of the costs. And these can be significant. An international student attending a US university can expect to pay on average about USD33,000 a year in tuition fees. In the UK, Australia and Canada the average ranges between about USD26,000 and USD30,000. Add housing, food, air fares and other expenses to that bill and it is clear that it is worth weighing up the costs carefully and doing some homework.  

There are of course other factors to consider beyond finance as parents assess the options for their child’s education. How easy will it be for them to keep in touch and visit home? Do they have family and friends abroad who could support them in their studies? Beyond the academic life, what opportunities will they have to pursue interests such as sport or music? And after university, can they stay in the country to work?

That said, understanding the likely costs, planning and managing the money aspect of international education is crucial. Not only does it help make funding an international university education achievable, but it also gives parents peace of mind when they are away from their children. 

Investing in the future

Here are seven things I think parents often overlook when planning their child’s education abroad:

  • Currency - Exchange rate fluctuations can have a significant impact on the amount you send abroad. A fluctuation of say 5-10 per cent on fees and expenses of USD70,000, for example, could make a difference of between USD3,500 and USD5,000. Over three years, that could represent a difference of more than USD10,000

  • Accounts – Think about opening an account before your child goes abroad

  • Costs – Watch out for extra costs. Fees and charges for transferring money or using an overseas credit card soon add up. Do some homework and find out what kind of payments universities accept. Some may allow you to pay in another currency or in instalments

  • Transfers – Check how long it takes your bank to transfer money. You never know when you might need to send money to your child

  • Health – Look into which health insurance policies are accepted by the university and compare cost and coverage carefully

  • Life events – It’s worth thinking about getting a protection policy so that if something happens to you, your child’s education won’t be disrupted

  • Planning – Start planning early and be disciplined about saving. Putting aside USD10 a day for 10 years at a return rate of 2 per cent could cover one or two years’ of university education in the most popular countries. Consider seeking professional advice

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