If you're considering studying abroad there are plenty of reasons why China should be high on your list of destinations

The Chinese government has invested heavily in higher education in recent years and is dedicated to creating more 'world-class' universities to attract increasing numbers of international students. In fact, the country aims to have 500,000 international students enrolled in its universities by 2020, so you can expect a warm welcome when you arrive.

You can also be sure of value for money, as tuition fees are relatively low in comparison 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 first-hand a history, culture, climate and landscape different to their own. While soaking up the Chinese way of life you'll have plenty of time to pick up a second language, most likely Mandarin, the most commonly spoken language in the country.

After graduation your prospects are good, as many employers prefer candidates who already have 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 'copy cat' towns. Thames Town 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. For example, the Beijing Institute of Technology, China Agricultural University and the Ocean University of China.

China has 33 institutions in the QS World University Rankings 2016/17. The top five are:

  • Tsinghua University
  • Peking University
  • Fudan University
  • Shanghai Jiao Tong University
  • University of Science and Technology China.

While rankings might be important to foreign students trying to decide where to study, the Chinese set more store by the C9 League, a group of nine universities considered equivalent to the British Russell Group or the American Ivy League. The universities that make the C9 League are:

  • 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 Jiao Tong 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; and the spring semester between September and January.


Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University

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

Student exchanges

If you are enrolled at a UK university you may be able to study in China through exchange programmes. Many institutions in the UK 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 Xi'an Jaiotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) in Suzhou, approximately 30 minutes from Shanghai. At The University of Nottingham postgraduate students can head over to China to study for 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. Programmes last between 5 and 11 months and you can study the Chinese language or disciplines such as business, economics or engineering.

Degree courses

Undergraduate programmes typically take four years to complete 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 the Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK).

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, only a small number of universities set these exams for bachelor-level courses.

For a list of Bachelor programmes, and to filter by language of instruction see Campus China - Universities and Programs.

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 will need to:

  • be aged 18 or above
  • hold a valid foreign passport
  • hold a Bachelors degree or equivalent
  • provide one/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 of instruction see Campus China - Universities and Programs.


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

To successfully gain a PhD you'll need to produce your own 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 Programs.

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 cost more for accommodation and tuition fees than inland smaller 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 that you need to pay.

On average you should expect to pay between £2,000 and £7,000 per year on tuition fees, with postgraduate courses reaching the mid-to higher end of this scale.

When applying to study in China you need to consider:

  • application fees
  • visa fees
  • travel expenses
  • tuition fees
  • 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 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 see Campus China - Scholarships.

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 £40, as well as the application fee charged by the university. Contact institutions directly to find out how much they charge.

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

Official application deadlines are as follows:

  • Autumn semester intake - late July, although all applications are encouraged to be made before this date.
  • Spring semester intake - late January, again it is advised that all applications are submitted prior to this date.

Some institutions ask that you have no criminal convictions and that you are able to prove a reliable financial state.

Student visas

Foreign students who intend to study in China will need a visa to do so. The best time to apply is once you have 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 will need:

  • an original passport with at least six 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).

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

Language requirements

The most widely used languages in China are Cantonese and Mandarin, but there are many other dialects 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 or alternatively you could learn the language while in China. To find out more about HSK see The Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK).

Those that struggle to get to grips with the tricky language shouldn't worry. There are a number of courses taught in English so there will be 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 that your qualifications are recognised worldwide.

Find out more