Chinese students studying at international universities are increasingly enrolling in technology and liberal arts-related pursuits, eschewing traditionally popular courses such as medicine and law.
The trend has been observed by consultancy group Crimson Education, which helps to facilitate enrolment at the most prestigious universities for students located around the world.
Crimson Education was established in New Zealand in 2013 and operates in 15 countries.
The company was initially set up to establish an easier pathway for international students to get into top universities, including Harvard, Yale and Oxford University, but has since expanded to provide academic support services, leadership development and extracurricular training.
Crimson Education chief financial officer and academic adviser Fangzhou Jiang said the company had a database of thousands of Chinese students who had enrolled in top universities, as well as a big list of young Chinese professionals and mentors.
Ambitions to study abroad continue to grow in China, with the numbers of students seeking an international education showing no signs of abating.
According to China’s Ministry of Education, more than 544,000 Chinese studied abroad in 2016, more than triple the 179,800 who were enrolled in foreign schools in 2008.
Forecasts have predicted the numbers of Chinese studying abroad to peak at between 700,000 and 800,000 in the next five years.
Mr Jiang, who was an international student himself, having obtained his high school qualifications in New Zealand and his tertiary education in Australia, said Chinese students had traditionally sought out blue chip courses like medicine and law, but in 2017, that behaviour was starting to change.
“When Chinese students choose their courses, they are hugely influenced by their parents, who are actually in China or they are new immigrants to somewhere like Australia,” Mr Jiang said.
“But because of the global rise in dominance of technology, especially firms like Tencent and Alibaba in China, that has made Chinese parents realise that tech is a good skillset to acquire.
“It’s relatively easy to get jobs now in the IT industry, it’s demanding a lot of new labour into the workforce.
“We’ve seen a lot of students shifting from traditional pursuits like medicine or law into computer science or IT.
“In China, 10 years ago it was ‘you must do x, or you have to do y, otherwise you will bring shame to the family and you won’t be able to get a job’.
“Now it has shifted a little bit, more and more parents are starting to allow their children to have more options.”
Mr Jiang said the other emerging phenomena Crimson Education had observed was increased understanding about the liberal arts approach to education prevalent at American universities.
American universities have long been popular for Chinese students, with data indicating around 40 per cent of the international students enrolled in the United States are from China.
In US universities, students are exposed to a broad range of subjects as well as their selected course, to ensure a more rounded and balanced education is achieved and to build core skills and competencies.
“This is quite attractive to Chinese students for a few reasons,” Mr Jiang said.
“Number one, it gives people more flexibility. More and more students are realising that in high school, they are not really in the best position to make a call on what to do for the rest of their lives.
“A lot of law students and medical students now realise two or three years into their study that they actually hate it – they chose to study it before not because they knew everything about it and wanted to pursue it, but rather it was just what their peers were doing.
“Nowadays more people are realising that they want flexibility and they want to know more about that industry and career options before they make a final choice.”
Mr Jiang said the other driving factor for the increased take-up of the liberal arts approach by Chinese students was that employers were increasingly seeking more rounded graduates.
“Employers are no longer choosing people who just have a certain knowledge or come from a certain area,” he said.
“For example, top tier investment banks, or consulting firms or engineering firms, their recruits and graduates come from varied backgrounds, because they want fast learners.
“As a result, holistic learning and liberal arts education gives students a good advantage, which is why a lot of Chinese students are seeking it out.”