China’s International Education Sector in 2023: A Year in Review

The BONARD China Team reflects on the developments that made 2023 a pivotal year for the sector.

December 19, 2023 BONARD

The BONARD China Team reflects on the developments that made 2023 a pivotal year for the sector.

This year started with the news the international education sector worldwide had been waiting for: China’s borders reopened in January for the first time since 2020.

But the positive developments didn’t stop in January:2023not only started auspiciously butturned out to be a transformational year for the international education industry in China, and2024 promises to be even more dynamic.

As we approach the end of the year, here is a review of all theessential news and developments that shaped the sector in 2023, with intel from the BONARD China Team.


China’s bordersreopened on 6 Januaryfor the first time since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020. International student mobility resumed, quickly reaching pre-pandemic levels. For example, the total number of Chinese students applying to study in the US in the 2022/2023 application season increased by 40.6% over 2019/2020, according to data released by CommonApp.


Temporary logistic challenges delayed the arrival of Chinese students in Australia.

“Despite these short-lived issues, it is worth noting that Australia and New Zealand have close relationships with the Chinese Ministry of Education,” explainsIgor Skibickij, BONARD’s Chief Operations Officer.

During the pandemic,the relationship between China and Australiawas tense, and Australia’s pandemic prevention and control policies severely impacted the Australian study abroad market. BONARD China learned that after the Australian border reopened, the number of students studying abroad quickly returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“In 2023, two important events signalled a stronger friendship between the two countries: the Minister of Education, Huai Jinpeng, visited Australia in August while Anthony Albanese was the first Australian PM to visit China since 2016.”


EIC, one of the top international education agencies in China, publishedstatistics on Chinese students studying abroadthat revealed insights into study levels, destinations, and popular majors. Here are the key findings:

  • The data showed that 81.2% of Chinese students studying abroad were enrolled in a master's degree, while undergraduate programs accounted for 16.6%. Only 0.5% of students were enrolled in a doctoral program;

  • Canada and South Korea had particularly high proportions of Chinese students enrolled in undergraduate degrees at 55.5% and 49.6%, respectively;

  • The top 5 majors for undergraduate students were economics (9.6%), computer science (8.7%), business (6.9%), communication and media research (5.9%), and mathematics (4.9%);

  • The top 5 majors for Chinese students who graduated from a Project 985 University (a group of institutions similar to the Russell Group in the UK, the Ivy League in the US, and the Group of Eight in Australia) are science and engineering (41%), business and economics (36.3%), computer science (16.7%), finance (9.2%), and electronic and electrical engineering (4.7%).

A new policy was introduced in Hainan Province, the Provisional Regulations on Overseas Higher Education Institutions Running Schools in Hainan Free Trade Port, that grants preferential and supportive regulations to international institutions in Hainan.

Su Su, BONARD China Branch Senior Project Manager Consultant, explains:

“The government wants to encourage international schools and universities to open in Hainan Province. By 2025, China plans to attract over 10,000 students and enable the sector to generate 30bn Yuan.”

These are some of the measures that will boost the province’s attractiveness for international institutions:

  • International schools and universities will enjoy lower taxes and a zero-tariff policy on imported teaching and research materials;

  • A favourable immigration policy, including visa-free entry for 59 countries, will support schools’ and universities’ recruitment efforts;

  • Institutions, with the support of Hainan Province, will be able to offer comprehensive relocation support (including medical insurance) for foreign staff members and their families.


A new policy introduced in the higher education sector, the Adjustment, Optimization and Reform of Disciplinary and Professional Settings in General Higher Education, introduced several changes, including:

  • New engineering, medical, agricultural, and humanities majors;

  • An emphasis on the creation of first-class majors and deeper international exchanges and cooperation.


New Oriental held a press conference in Beijing to launch its2023 China Study Abroad White Paper.

The findings revealed thatinternational schools are becoming more popular with Chinese students.

In 2022, the number of international school admissions in China surged, showing an increase of 23% over 2019, with an enrolment increase of about 10%.

For students in higher education,the UK, the US, Australia, and Canadaare the most popular destinations. Asian destinations such asHong Kong, Japan, and Singaporeare rising in popularity.

“This is an increasingly important mobility trend in the region," observesGrace Zhu, BONARD China Branch Director.

“There are many reasons that Chinese students are attracted to these destinations. For example, Chinese students have a better understanding of the local culture, and it is more convenient for parents to visit their children when they are studying abroad.”


Chinese universitiesraised domestic tuition fees, many for the first time in more than two decades. Tuition fees increased considerably, from 15% to nearly 60%, depending on the province.

Igor Skibickijcomments:

“For international educators keen to succeed in China, offering affordable programs while demonstrating their impact on employability and career advancement will be a necessary balancing act. Chinese parents will continue to spend on quality overseas education, but affordability is becoming an increasingly important factor.”


Geopolitical tensions betweenthe US and Chinaforced institutions to rethink collaborations forged in friendlier times, while US branch campuses in China faced uncertainty.

China’s youth unemployment rate roseto a record high in July. A record 11.58 million graduates entered China’s workforce in 2023.


On 6 September, Chen Jie, Vice Minister of Education, met with Edouard Geffray, Director General of School Education, atthe French Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in Paris to sign an administrative agreementto promote Chinese language learning in France.

Su Sucomments:

“China has maintained close relations with France in various fields, such as economy and education, for a long time, and 2024 marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France. This new agreement will boost Chinese language learning in France, enhancing and supporting international collaboration between Chinese and French institutions.”


For the first time in 15 years, China was no longer the first source country forUS institutions, according to SEVIS data. It wassurpassed by India, ending one of the most remarkable and enduring international student mobility trends in the industry.

BONARD China learned that enthusiasm for studying in the US decreased to some extent after the pandemic. However, the US retains a significant market share in China thanks to the excellent reputation of its education institutions,”Grace Zhuobserves.

In November this year, the heads of state of China and the US met to discuss ways to enhance cooperation and understanding. We believe that the US is and will remain one of the most popular destinations for Chinese students, but competition will become more intense, and universities need to closely monitor the market and make the necessary adjustments,” she adds.

China’s CITIC Bank released the2023 Studying Abroad Blue Bookfeaturing interesting statistics on students’ needs and preferences. The key findings included:

  • The top three criteria guiding students when choosing a university overseas are rankings, the reputation of the institution in China, and the program’s curriculum;

  • The top three areas where students need more support are meeting institutions’ entry requirements, application guidance, and destination and university selection.


China launched a15-day visa-free policyfor six countries, includingFrance, Germany, and Italy.

Grace Zhucomments:

“European destinations – especially France, but also Germany and Italy – have always been popular in China. Although English-speaking countries remain the number one choice for students, international cooperation is very strong between Chinese and European institutions. In recent years, China has also actively recruited overseas students and hopes to recruit some students from outside the Belt and Road countries. European schools can look for opportunities to establish partnerships with Chinese international schools or public middle schools, high schools, and universities.”

  • Singapore and Thailand implemented visa-free transit policies for Chinese tourists, a development which is expected to further increase these countries’ popularity with Chinese students.

Zhu concludes:

“The international education sector in China moved beyond the Covid crisis in 2023. We believe next year will be promising: the market will be more active, and there will be more engagement with overseas institutions.”

The BONARD China Team wishes everyone a happy and prosperous New Year

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As 2023 draws to close, we would like to take this opportunity to share with you the selection of the most important presentations and reports published by the BONARD Education research team during the course of 2023.

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