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
China travel advice
The Chinese authorities have suspended all direct flights to the mainland of China from the UK in the wake of a new significant outbreak of Omicron COVID-19 cases in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Changchun (since March 2022).
The Chinese government has pledged to create more 'world-class' universities and attract a greater number of international students. In fact, the country now boasts around 500,000 international students enrolled in its universities, so you can be sure you won't be alone when making this decision.
You can also be certain of getting 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. As well as visiting historic sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Imperial Summer Palace, the Classical Gardens of Suzhou and the Forbidden City, you can take a cruise along the Li River, stroll along Shanghai's promenade 'The Bund' and feast on Chinese cuisine.
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.
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 58 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2022. Six of these make it into the top 100:
- Tsinghua University (17th)
- Peking University (18th)
- Fudan University (31st)
- Zhejiang University (45th)
- Shanghai Jiao Tong University (50th)
- University of Science and Technology of China (98th).
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.
Start dates at Chinese universities differ from Western academic calendars as the academic year is split into two semesters - spring and fall (autumn). These run from February or early March to mid-July, and from mid-September to January or early February respectively.
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.
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.
As with Bachelors degrees, 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.
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 university international office.
For example, undergraduate students at the University of Liverpool can spend a year studying for a BA in China Studies at Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU), a joint venture with Xi'an Jiaotong University in Suzhou, located approximately 30 minutes from Shanghai.
Postgraduate students can choose to study a variety of taught and research-based courses at the University of Nottingham's Ningbo China campus. They also offer a few undergraduate courses in specific subjects such as architecture and aerospace engineering.
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 a two-month online internship with a company based in China as part of the British Council's Generation UK - China initiative.
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 £1,500 and £3,850 each year in tuition fees 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 fully and partially sponsored scholarships are available to international students at both undergraduate and postgraduate level via the Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC). The amount available will depend 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.
Overseas 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 - for those from the UK, this would be the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United Kingdom, which is based in London.
The type of visa required 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:
- fall (autumn) semester intake - late July.
- spring semester intake - late January.
Some institutions ask that you've got no prior criminal convictions and to prove you're in a reliable financial state.
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. Most 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.
Comparison to UK qualifications
When it comes to the recognition of your qualifications, you're covered. In April 2009, the Chinese government signed mutual recognition agreements with 64 countries and regions (including the UK and USA), ensuring your qualifications are recognised worldwide.
Find out more
- Discover what it's like to work in China.
- Explore your options on studying in China with Campus China.