Chinese university students’ intention to study abroad in times of Covid-19: the important role of student background characteristics

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Research article


A-publication by Tianyu Yang (ROA), Wei Bao (Xiamen University), Barbara Belfi (ROA) and Carla Haelermans (ROA) published in Higher Education



The COVID-19 pandemic has affected higher education students in many ways, and it seems to also have influences students’ willingness to study abroad. To date, much is still unclear about the exact effects of COVID-19 on Chinese students’ intentions to study abroad and whether that differs for different types of students. This is problematic, as for students, international study experience is of great importance for their further careers, while for HEIs, the share of foreign students greatly influences their resources. We collected and analyzed survey data from 14,385 Chinese students to examine (1) the unique effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on their intention to study abroad, and (2) the potential differential effects of the pandemic on students with different background characteristics. The results indicate that students from provinces with high COVID-19 pandemic exposure were more inclined to study abroad due to stringent preventive measures and heightened awareness of the virus’s severity. Moreover, the results show that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a greater impact on the intentions to study abroad of high-SES students and students with lower academic achievement than of low-SES and high achieving students. More concretely, due to the pandemic, both student groups were less willing to study abroad than their low-SES and high-achieving counterparts. In terms of student gender, no differential effects were found, suggesting that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the studying abroad intentions of students of various genders relatively equally.


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