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The Rise of the Master’s Degree

The Rise of the Master’s Degree

A report by the non-profit Urban Institute comments on the rise in the number of students taking a master’s degree in the US (Blagg, 2018). In line with the slow, but growing, trend towards transnational education, the report states that “Master’s programs are also increasingly online, with more than 50 percent of master’s students reporting at least some online coursework in 2015–16”.

While the cost of a master’s degree has risen, “net prices for online-only master’s programs have risen slower than for in-person programs”.

The growth in the number of master’s degrees seems to be driven by the need for differentiation in the jobs market, a need to demonstrate subject-matter expertise to prospective employers (note that a master’s degree in the US is often similar in its depth of study to a bachelor’s degree in the UK).

Of particular interest for students from abroad is the very large increase in the percentage of students for which the course material was delivered entirely online (Blagg, 2018):
























The net cost to an institution of delivering an online course is very small, the quality of the courses delivered by different institutions is very similar, and so the substantial fees charged for a course reflect the prestige of receiving an award from the institution in question. These considerations are ultimately likely to lead to the collapse in the bricks-and-mortar model of university education (as per online retailing). For example, in the future, an institution that maintained very high academic standards – one set up by government or by a non-profit organization – could offer courses at a negligible cost, and might well make such courses available to students globally. An award from such an institution is likely to be very acceptable to employers seeking to distinguish between prospective employees with different capabilities – thereby undermining the raison d’être for the bricks-and-mortar university.


Blagg, K. (2018). The Rise of Master’s Degrees (Urban Institute).

New UK Immigration Rules Impact Chinese Students

New UK Immigration Rules Impact Chinese Students

Today, December 19th, the UK government has published its long-awaited White Paper on the immigration rules that will apply following the UK’s exit from the EU (due to be phased in from 2021):

  • All students who have completed a degree and who wish to stay on in the UK to work will benefit from a six months’ post-study leave, and for those with a PhD degree the post-study leave will be extended to twelve months.


  • There will be no limit on the number of international students who can come to the UK to study.

  • Students studying at bachelor’s level or above will be able to apply to switch into the skilled workers route up to three months before the end of their course in the UK, and those from outside the UK for a period of up to two years following graduation.

  • The recommendation made by the independent Migration Advisory Committee to scrap the current limit on the number of high-skilled workers coming to the UK using Tier 2 visas is accepted, removing any limits on the number of high-skilled workers that can be recruited from China and elsewhere.

  • There will be a consultation on whether a minimum salary requirement of £30,000 should be enforced for skilled migrants seeking five-year visas. However, low-skilled workers may be able to obtain short-term visas of up to a year’s duration.

The statement made in Parliament can be viewed here. The UK Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “We should be more welcoming to students in this country … We should make it easier for them to stay in the UK and to work, and in that case the salary threshold will be a lot lower.”

Chinese Students Turned Away from the US

Chinese Students Turned Away from the US

For a good overview of the problems facing Chinese students studying in the US, see this article by Julie Yao, an intern with the Asia Studies program at the Council on Foreign Relations. In particular, she states:

  • Chinese international students actively contribute to the United States’ economy and society. Yet U.S. President Donald J. Trump has proclaimed Chinese international students “spies”, and, in early December, the White House announced that it was considering expanding the vetting process of Chinese students applying for visas. Particularly in the wake of the June 2018 State Department decision to restrict visas for Chinese graduate students in sensitive research fields, many Chinese students now fear that their visas will be denied and they will be unable to continue their research. As a result, a higher proportion of these students and scholars are turning back to China. In 2017, eight out of 10 Chinese students returned home after studying abroad, compared to three out of 10 in 2007.    

Academic Achievement – Nature versus Nurture?

Academic Achievement – Nature versus Nurture?

Advice for Chinese Students Studying in the US

Advice for Chinese Students Studying in the US

How likely are the reputation of the university you attend and the grade classification you achieve to be down to your genes or, instead, to be down to environmental factors?

A research study (Smith-Woolley et al., 2018) involving 3,000 pairs of twins has found that genes explain 57% to the variation in the reputation of the university attended and 46% of the variation in the grade classification achieved. Perhaps not a surprising result, since the more prestigious the institution, the higher the academic entry criteria – and both academic entry criteria and grade classification are correlated with IQ, which is highly heritable.

But, interestingly, when the researchers eliminated the impact of IQ (as measured by entrance examination achievement), they still found that 47% of the variation in the reputation of the institution attended was determined by an individual’s genes, suggesting that other heritable factors strongly influence the choice of university. What these factors might be is unknown, but determination – as evidenced by an individual applying to prestigious institutions – and conscientiousness – as evidenced by the care taken by an individual in preparing university entrance applications and in planning for university interviews – might be relevant.


Smith-Woolley, E., Ayorech, Z., Dale, P.S., von Stumm, S., and Plomin, R. (2018). The genetics of university success. Scientific Reports 8, 14579.

Some of the advice given by existing Chinese students studying in the US to newcomers is as follows (Heng, 2018):

  • Hone your reading skills and speed before arriving in the US in preparation for the heavy volume of reading assigned.

  • Email your professors for their courses’ book lists.

  • Reading ahead is helpful not only for language improvement but also for acquiring ideas that can be incorporated into written essays and classroom discussions.

  • Practice your listening skills by listening to news channels, such as Voice of America.


Heng, T.T. (2018). Chinese International Students’ Advice to Incoming First-Year Students: Involving Students in Conversations With Them, Not About Them. Journal of College Student Development 59, 232–238.

What Factors Influence the Decision to Study Abroad?

What Factors Influence the Decision to Study Abroad?

What factors influence the decision to study abroad, and where to study abroad? Here are some views expressed by Chinese students (Mankowska, 2018):

  • The primary motive for studying abroad is a desire to ensure better future employment conditions or a particular type of employment.

  • The choice of overseas university is mainly dictated by its reputation and prestige.

  • A degree earned abroad guarantees, on returning home, better-paid employment – though not necessarily in a job that makes full use of the skills acquired overseas.


  • When returning to China with an overseas degree, students will receive additional benefits from the government: lower taxes, educational subsidies for children, access to business incubators.

  • Study abroad develops additional language and cultural skills.

  • Study abroad offers a uniquely well-rounded life experience that will be valued in the global labour market.

  • Knowledge of China combined with an understanding of overseas standards and expectations is a lucrative combination for a future career in business.

  • At some overseas universities, tuition and the cost of living are not significantly higher than at universities in China.

  • The best Chinese universities have a limited number of spaces, insufficient in number for all of the very best students to gain access.

  • The one-child policy directly contributes to the willingness of Chinese parents to invest heavily in their child’s future.

  • Chinese parents are convinced that an overseas education will give their child entry to a higher social class.

  • Many parents are aware that the competitive, test-oriented, traditional, encyclopaedic Chinese education does not offer students the skills needed to succeed in the global labour market.


Mankowska, A. (2018). Studying Abroad: A Case Study of Chinese International Mobility. Education in Modern Society 150.

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