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Following substantial investment in higher education over the past few years, if you’re looking to study abroad, China has positioned itself as a destination with plenty to offer

The Chinese government has pledged to create more ‘world-class’ universities and attract a greater number of international students. In fact, the country aims to have 500,000 international students enrolled in its universities by 2020, so you can be sure you won’t be alone when making this decision.

You can also be sure of value for money, as tuition fees are relatively low compared to European countries and the USA. The opportunity to travel and explore the world’s most populous country is another huge draw for foreign students. Many use their study holidays to experience a rich history, culture, climate and landscape vastly different to their own.

While immersed in the Chinese way of life, you’ll have plenty of time to pick up a second language – most likely Mandarin, the country’s most commonly spoken language.

After graduation, your prospects are good, as many employers in China prefer candidates with some experience of the Chinese culture and knowledge of local languages.

What’s more, you don’t have to worry about feeling homesick, as Shanghai is home to many ‘copycat’ towns. Thames Town, for instance, is a replica of an English village with cobbled streets and an English pub, so you’ll feel right at home.

Chinese universities

The majority of higher education institutions in China are public and governed by the Ministry of Education. They are made up of:

  • research universities
  • comprehensive universities
  • colleges of professional training and higher vocational education.

Around 600 of the 3,000 universities and colleges are qualified to admit international students. These institutions offer a combination of short courses, language studies and undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Some universities concentrate on a specific field of study – though not exclusively – and use this area of expertise in their title, such as the Beijing Institute of Technology, China Agricultural University and the Ocean University of China.

China has 40 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2019. Five feature in the top 100:

  • Tsinghua University (17th)
  • Peking University (30th)
  • Fudan University (40th)
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University (59th)
  • Zhejiang University (68th).

While rankings might be important to foreign students considering where to study, the Chinese place more emphasis on the C9 League, a group of nine universities considered equivalent to the British Russell Group or the American Ivy League. The C9 League is made up of the following universities:

  • Fudan University
  • Harbin Institute of Technology
  • Nanjing University
  • Peking University
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  • Tsinghua University
  • University of Science and Technology of China
  • Xi’an Jiaotong University
  • Zhejiang University.

The academic year in China is split into two semesters and runs from September to July. Start dates at Chinese universities differ from Western academic calendars as the autumn semester falls between February and July; the spring semester falls between September and January.

As the largest international university in China, XJTLU offers a range of English-taught Masters and PhD programmes with University of Liverpool degrees.

Degree courses in China

Undergraduate programmes typically last for four years and are available in a range of subjects from business, technology, science and engineering to medicine and the humanities. Medicine and dentistry courses can take up to five years to complete.

Courses are taught in Chinese (usually Mandarin) and English. If you’d like to study in English, you’ll need to check which institutions offer your course in the language. Non-native speakers will need to prove their proficiency before being admitted onto a programme.

Similarly, if you’d like to study your preferred degree in Chinese, you’ll need to pass a proficiency test.

To be admitted onto a Bachelors course, non-Chinese citizens must:

  • be 18 years old or above
  • be in good health
  • hold a valid foreign passport
  • be in possession of a high school graduation or leavers certificate or equivalent.

In general, entrance examinations are not a requirement for undergraduate programmes, as only a small number of universities set them for Bachelor-level courses.

For a list of Bachelor programmes, and to filter by language, see Campus China – Universities and Programmes.

Masters degrees

Both taught and research postgraduate courses are available in a variety of subjects and usually require two to three years of study. The main language of instruction is Mandarin, but an increasing number of universities are offering Masters courses in English to cater for the growing number of international students.

Like with a Bachelors degree, if you’re not a native speaker of either language, you’ll need to prove your proficiency before being admitted onto a course.

You’ll learn through a series of lectures, seminars, workshops and your own individual research. Assessment methods include written and oral examinations, coursework and presentations.

To be admitted onto a Masters course, you’ll need to:

  • be aged 18 or above
  • hold a valid foreign passport
  • hold a Bachelors degree or equivalent
  • provide one or two letters of recommendation.

Some institutions may ask you to sit an entrance exam.

To search for a Masters course in the country and to filter by language, see Campus China – Universities and Programmes.


Doctoral programmes are also available in China and take three years to complete.

To successfully gain a PhD, you’ll need to produce individual, unique research and complete a thesis.

You’ll need a Masters qualification or equivalent, and at least two letters of recommendation from professors for entry onto a course.

To search for available doctoral programmes, see Campus China – Universities and Programmes.

Student exchanges

If you’re enrolled at a UK university you may be able to study in China through an exchange programme. Many UK institutions have links to the country, so discuss this with your tutor or visit the international office.

For example, undergraduate students at the University of Liverpool can spend a year studying for a BA in China Studies at XJTLU in Suzhou, which is approximately 30 minutes from Shanghai. At The University of Nottingham, postgraduate students can study a variety of taught and research-based courses at the university’s Ningbo campus.

As long as you’re a full-time student enrolled at a UK university, or a recent graduate, you’re also eligible to apply to study in China as part of the British Council’s Generation UK China academic scholarships. The programmes last between five and 11 months and you can either study the Chinese language or choose from a range of disciplines, including business, economics and engineering.

Course fees

Studying in China is relatively inexpensive when compared with the USA or Britain. Larger cities on the east coast (Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong) will charge more for accommodation and tuition fees than smaller inland towns and cities.

Course fees vary with each programme, institution and location and usually increase each year, so check with the admissions department of your chosen university to find out the exact amount you’ll pay.

However, you should typically expect to pay between £1,320 and £2,400 in tuition fees per year for Bachelors degrees, with courses in business, engineering and medicine costing an average of £18,319 to £38,166 per year.

When applying to study in China, you also need to consider:

  • application fees
  • visa fees
  • travel expenses
  • living costs
  • accommodation costs.

Funding to study in China

A number of scholarships are available to international students. The Chinese Government Scholarship Programme fully and partially sponsors foreign students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. The China Scholarship Council manages the programme and the amount available to you depends on your subject and institution.

To attract the best international students, many leading Chinese universities have also set up their own scholarship schemes for foreign students. You’ll need to contact institutions directly to find out what’s on offer.

It’s also worth looking into local government scholarships. Some provincial and municipal governments in China offer funding support to international students studying in the area.

For more information on what’s available, see Campus China – Scholarships.

Student visas

Foreign students who intend to study in China will need to obtain a visa. The best time to apply is once you’ve received your letter of acceptance from your institution. All you have to do is visit your local Chinese embassy.

The type of visa needed will depend on the length of your course:

  • For a study period of no more than 180 days, you’ll need an X2 visa.
  • If you intend to study in the country for more than six months, you’ll need an X1 visa.

To apply for the X1 visa, you’ll need:

  • your passport with at least 12 months validity remaining and blank visa pages
  • a completed Visa Application Form with a recent colour passport photo
  • the original and a photocopy of the admissions letter issued by your school or institution
  • the original and a photocopy of the Visa Application for Study in China form (for JW201 or JW202)
  • an admission notice from the university you’ll be studying at
  • to complete the online Visa Service Request Form
  • to make payment for your application.

For more information on visas and the required documentation, see the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre.

How to apply

International students can apply for a place at a Chinese university online via China’s University and College Admission System (CUCAS) or by applying directly to your chosen university. Each university sets its own requirements for entry and you’ll need to successfully meet these before being admitted onto a course.

If you apply through CUCAS, you’ll need to pay a service fee charge of roughly £38, as well as the application fee charged by the university. Please note, C9 League universities charge around £115 per application.

For some postgraduate courses, you’ll need to apply directly to your chosen institution.

Although it’s advised that applications are submitted as early as possible, official deadlines are as follows:

  • Autumn semester intake – late July.
  • Spring semester intake – late January.

Some institutions ask that you’ve no criminal convictions and to prove you’re in a reliable financial state.

Language requirements

The most widely used languages in China are Cantonese and Mandarin, but many other dialects are spoken.

If you’d like to study a course in Mandarin, you’ll first need to prove you level of proficiency. The majority of universities ask students to pass the Chinese Proficiency Test, or the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) as it’s known in China. The HSK is divided into three categories: beginner, elementary/intermediate and advanced.

For most undergraduate programmes, you’ll need to prove you’re competent at levels 4 to 6 before being admitted onto a course. For postgraduate degrees, you’ll need a pass at levels 5 to 8.

Test centres are located throughout the world – alternatively, you could learn the language while in China. To find out more about HSK, see The Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK).

Those struggling to get to grips with the language shouldn’t worry. A number of courses are taught in English, so there’s no need to prove your proficiency in Mandarin – although you may have to submit English proficiency results, such as IELTS, if you’re not a native English speaker.

Five reasons why you should study in China

Research and anecdotes from students show that China is becoming more popular among international learners and that it has many benefits for graduate.

Students looking to study abroad have an increasing number of options and China is becoming more and more popular, according to research from, which provides accommodation for international students. Here are five reasons to consider joining the throngs of international students already there.

1. You’ll be joining a growing trend

China is an increasingly popular destination for students from around the world, with the number of international students in China doubling in the past 10 years.

China is already the fourth most popular destination for travel generally and has the third-largest population of international students, behind the US and the UK.

This number has been growing by an average of 10 per cent a year for the past 10 years, a far quicker growth rate than any other popular study-abroad destination.

Ten years ago, more than a third of all international students in China were from South Korea. Now, the demographics are far more diverse and there are 10 different countries that each make up more than 3 per cent of the international student population, while South Korea’s contribution has fallen to 17 per cent.

Gracibelt Rendon, originally from Mexico, studied in China for five years in both Beijing and Shanghai.

She says: “My experience was great; I got to meet people from all over the world, mainly from Europe and South America, but I also had the opportunity to get to know the Chinese culture and made great friendships with Chinese people.

“In my first six months, I lived with a host Chinese family in the typical hutongs, which are traditional [residential areas]. I lived with about 10 Chinese people from the same family. It was amazing as we always had dinner together and none of them spoke English so this really helped [me to] penetrate the culture.”

Choosing to study in China is a smart move for anyone looking to try something slightly out of the ordinary, while knowing that you’ll be in good company.

2. There are more options than ever

Over the past 10 years, international visitors and students have been going “deeper” into China, choosing to travel to a wider range of cities than before.

In the past, Shanghai and Beijing were the only cities where it was common to see international students.

In 2006, nearly 50 per cent of international students were in Beijing or Shanghai, but this has fallen to 32 per cent.

Today, there are 13 cities across China with more than 10,000 international students, with seven cities having more than 20,000 students.

Popular cities include Guangdong in the south of China and Liaoning, north of Beijing.

3. Chinese universities have a growing reputation

Whether you intend to secure a graduate job or continue studying at postgraduate level, the reputation of your university is important for your future prospects.

Chinese universities are increasingly well respected; the number included in major global university rankings has risen significantly over the past five years, particularly compared with the UK, which has fallen in many rankings.

In 2011, there were only six Chinese universities in Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings, whereas in 2015-2016 there were 37, more than either Canada or Australia.

4. The government is investing heavily in international students

Financial support is an important factor in the decision to study abroad and the Chinese government is offering a wide range of funding opportunities to attract international students, including more than 40,000 scholarships at 277 institutions.

In 2015, 40 per cent of all international students new to China received government sponsorship. The number of scholarships available has increased fivefold since 2006.

5. It could be great for your career

Knowledge and experience of China is an increasingly valuable asset in many industries.

As the fourth most popular destination for international travel, with nearly 12 million business trips to China in 2015, the country is growing in economic and cultural significance.

Experience of China and Chinese, which is the third most popular language to learn in the world, could give you a great career boost.

Marie Rosszell, an international student at the University of Macau, secured a job with Google in Japan partly as a result of her international experiences. Read her blog here.

Gracibelt Rendon, who chose to study in China to differentiate herself from others in the workplace, explains: “There is a saying that my friends who went to university together share, which is; if you survive living in China, you can survive and be prepared to face anything in the world.

“[The experience] allows you to be an open-minded person, ready to adapt and be flexible, which at the end of the day is what every employer is looking for. Studying in China gives you experience about how things work in this part of the world and helps you to become more independent.”












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