March 7, 2023

Changing Dynamics for Chinese MBA Students Abroad

One of China’s biggest exports has always been its students.  Each year, more than 700,000 Chinese students are estimated to leave mainland China to study abroad, across all subjects.  And, for the better part of two decades, an MBA abroad has been an important part of many Chinese professionals’ career plans. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the PRC government’s strict lockdowns impacted many potential students’ plans and goals, leading to the suspension of exams such as IELTS and GRE coupled with economic disruptions and global geopolitical tensions.  Simultaneously, the growth of high-quality business school programs in China and the Asia-Pacific region have also led to a competitive alternative to studying abroad.


As a result, many Chinese students have reconsidered their international study plans.  Based on its latest “prospective student” survey, the Graduate Management Admission Council found that among East and Southeast Asia-Pacific candidates, their preference for studying abroad dropped to 87% from 92% during the pandemic.  In contrast, the number of students applying to Hong Kong universities from mainland China increased as much as 40%.


For the U.S., Chinese students were typically the largest source of foreign students before the pandemic.  However, the number of student visas issued to Chinese nationals declined more than 50% during the pandemic in the U.S. and significantly in the U.K. as well.  These trends are making business schools wonder if their programs, including the MBA, are too reliant on income from Chinese students.  In Australia, even though the number of Chinese student visas are back to pre-pandemic levels, schools are still considering diversifying their student base from regions such as China, India, Indonesia, Nepal and South America.


Interestingly, Chinese student demand for the highest ranked MBA programs has rebounded strongly. Compared to last year, IESE Business School in Barcelona saw a 15% increase in applications from China for its MBA and a 56% increase in enrollment for its MBA class of 2024.  HEC Paris reports applications from Chinese candidates have increased 20% in the past year, a return to pre-pandemic levels. Global business schools face a moment of decision.


For a full read of the article from the FT, click here.