Survey of Chinese Students in Australia

By David Xing, November 2016

In April 2016 Thriving Turtles conducted a survey amongst Chinese International students at four universities in Sydney: The University of NSW; The University of Sydney; The University of Science and Technology (UTS); and Macquarie University. The survey was targeted at Christian students who were recruited through on-campus Christian ministries of AFES FOCUS, Power to Change and Mandarin Bible Study groups.

Out of the 91 Chinese international students that completed the survey, 62 stated they were Christians. 23 were non-Christians and 6 were unsure. Only the responses from Christians were included in the analysis below.

48 students will graduate before 2017. Of these only 6 (13%) are planning to return to China with 28 (58%) saying they do not plan to return to China. 14 (29%) were unsure.

14 students will graduate in 2018 or later. At this time none of them plan to return to China after graduation. 10 (71%) plan to stay in Australia and 4 (29%) are uncertain.

This survey indicates that most Chinese Christian students do not intend to return to China upon completion of their studies. Out of the 62 Christians, only 6 (10%) stated they planed to return. 38 (61%) say they plan to stay in Australia and 18 (29%) are unsure (see table 1).

The data also showed that students were staying longer in Australia over and beyond the 3-5 years required to complete a tertiary degree. Upon completion of the degree, the data revealed that 24 students out of the 62 Christian students would have stayed more than 5 years in Australia (see table 2).

In any case, Australia is a unique case study compared to Chinese Christians in other countries. For example, it is much harder for international students to the UK to stay on after completing their studies. In comparison, Australia has several options that allow students to remain in the country for work or travel. Further research of current Australian visa and immigration policies may explain why Chinese families are choosing to send their children to Australia, not just for tertiary qualifications, but also for long-term residency.

The China Ministry of Education (MOE) estimates that, as of 2014, 75% (1) of Chinese students who have studied overseas return to China. So although our survey indicates most respondents prefer to stay in Australia, it seems that many of those are not actually able to remain and end up returning to China.   The large difference in the number of those who plan to return (10%) and those who actually return (75%) suggests that many of those who return are not doing so willingly and likely lack appropriate preparation (emotional and spiritual) for their return.

The results of this survey seem to indicate that many Chinese Christian students prefer to stay in Australia after completing their studies. Understanding this preference for Australia as the ideal place to live and work shows the need to consider ways of motivating Christian students to consider the gospel needs of their homeland, to be willing to put aside their own desires for a comfortable life and to be willing to return to China with a missional vision to be a blessing their families, communities and nation.


(1) Song, L. (2016). Returnee Ministry at Home and Abroad. ChinaSource Quarterly, 18(3). Retrieved from


Table 1

Graduate 2017 (48 people) Graduate 2018 and after (14 people)
Plan to return to China 6 0
Plan to stay in Australia 28 10
Uncertain 14 4

Table 2

Years in Australia Christians Non-Christians Unsure
2 7 4 1
3 14 7 4
4 6 2 0
5 11 8 0
6 3 1 0
7 16 0 1
8 2 0 0
9 3 0 0
10 0 0 0
Total 62 22 6