4 things to consider when attracting Chinese international students

Based in the Melbourne office, Eric was the original member of UMS’s first office in Australia and now the Co-CEO responsible for developing and growing business.

Since 2015, the education market’s competitive landscape has changed dramatically. Australia and New Zealand, once high up on the preference list for Chinese students, have slipped down below the UK, which has grown significantly against the United States.

Today, the role that parents play in the decision-making process has shifted too. This has been backed up by interviews we have done with graduates that are now working back in China. In some cases, parents told the student where to go or had a final veto on the decision.

Because of this, it’s crucial to empower students with as much influence over the information that parents are consuming so that they can steer them towards a mutually beneficial destination. Some parents are happy to consume this information inside WeChat, some will want to read Chinese on the official website, and others will want to read printed prospectus information in Chinese. Offering a combination of these to students and education agents is vital to ensure the right combination of messages can reach the parents.

Anecdotally, we are also seeing some increased interest in parents wanting to migrate long-term, so the aspect of studying in another country is only one part of the picture. A comparison of what life can look like long-term, for an entire family that decides to emigrate to Canada, or Australia or the UK, is also part of selling education now too.

For some parents and families in China, the idea of migrating and retiring early outside China was a pipe dream to be considered later, but with three years lost to the pandemic, it is now a reality check of how to get on with it. We see this as a key part of the consideration process of adult masters degree and PhD students.

  1. Coronavirus concerns have not disappeared immediately.

Throughout the pandemic, very few people have caught the Omicron strains in China that we have on the outside. For example, in The UK and Australia, we all knew various colleagues and family members who became sick with the strain, including ourselves.

Due to extensive lockdowns and testing, most people never contracted coronavirus in China, and they still associate it with the original strain, which is unpredictable and can lead to serious complications like SARS did. This is different to the mild Omicron strain we are all more familiar with now. Because of this, parents in China are still looking for reassurance that COVID-safe protocols are being followed on university campuses and that plans can still be followed effectively in the event of an outbreak.

Parents will be looking for photography and video examples of these protocols in the same way that these were shown in 2021 and 2022 when campus locations were trying to operate under COVID-safe rules.

  1. Safety and security on campus and in the city

Many parents intending to send their child overseas have higher education degrees and are well-read. These parents are aware of the geopolitical tensions that have risen around the world in the lead-up to the pandemic and during it. They will be looking for reassurance that student safety is taken seriously on campus and will check everything from the number of security guards in the evening and the public walk-way lighting from campus to student accommodation locations.

One university in New Zealand was promoting their evening security guard escorts to the carpark. On request, the security guard would walk with the student from the door of the university to their car. Photos of the process were promoted on their international student website landing pages – because they know that a high number of applicants are young women from China. Depending on the course, the ratio could be 70% or 80% female.

  1. Where should the focus be?

We have to ensure a balance between the exciting parts of study: culture, travel, new and interesting experiences, international friendships and options for the future, with the practical sides that appeal to parents, like starting salary for particular careers. The ability to gain work experience,  and work placements and the outlook of growth industries are important factors too.

For example, accounting and education are highly popular, but there are specific niche areas within these that are growing faster. For example, accountants that focus on e-commerce and technology businesses and educators that can work in special needs areas or in regional areas of the country.

Each university or higher education provider will have a different strategy around which courses need the most promotion. Still, we’ve found that it’s useful for students and parents to have downloadable PDFs in Chinese that they can refer to. The students can print these if they would like the parent to review them. These can be equally beneficial for agents to ensure they have comprehensive and impressive prospective collateral for one-on-one meetings with students and parents or in education fairs.

In many cases, there will be more demand from China than supply, especially for the usual sectors like education, accounting and business management, but the key challenge will be around attracting post-graduate and PhD students that can help to bolster the research output of universities. Universities need to compete for the best quality students to ensure that the university can hold or increase its ranking.

  1. Where to start – marketing to China

Running an official account on WeChat needs to be done with a partner in China, so there’s a range of steps to go through to ensure that is the right strategy for the team. In most cases, a higher education provider with an ongoing flow of Chinese students would have had or still has official accounts in China.

The bigger question is about brand building with organic content on social media, including Little Red Book or Douyin. Students on campus will already be doing this themselves, so it makes sense to harness this interest in creating social media content and run on-campus challenges, competitions and campaigns to incentivise the creation of user-generated content – for example, the student that posts videos that gets the most likes/shares wins a prize.

Another area to focus on is to do a review of previous student alumni. What cities did they come from in China? Were specific agents responsible for many of those applications? What fields have those students ended up working in? Are many of them still members of alumni associations or student groups on WeChat?

By evaluating these areas, it’s possible to identify new ways to link into existing networks familiar to the education brand. Including agents, student networks, universities and even entire cities where the groundwork has already been laid can provide momentum and recovery – rather than completely starting from scratch.

As we know, the concept of face is critical in China. Showcasing the success of graduates that have gone on to be successful in the host country or even back home in China and capturing their point of view on video in Chinese can be highly compelling for audiences. These testimonials take time and resources to gather but are much more powerful than a smiling selfie or a written recommendation.

For more insights on China’s international education market and tips on reaching this competitive market, download UMS’ latest education whitepaper: https://lnkd.in/gkd6ACkP