guide to Recruiting-Chinese-students

Have you ever heard of the term Chicken parenting? It is the equivalent of helicopter parenting in China and has been growing over parents all over the country in the last few decades. Those parents are super involved in their kid’s life, more notably their education, it goes from tutoring after class, to buying an appartment next to the best city schools, to spending thousands in private and overseas shcool… to ensure their kids can have the best outcomes once reaching adult life. The point being, China, is an enourmous market for the education industry. Altough, chinese universties are more and more valued in the world, the competition to enter is harsh resulting in many graduates to opt for studying overseas. In this guide, we will give you an in-depth context of the chinese education market as well as our best tips to attract chinese students to your school, university, training center and so on.

Introduction to China’s Education Market

In the world’s most populous country, education is extremely important for all social classes, from poor families who want to increase their social status, to wealthy families who do not want to lose face. Thus, it is important to understand Chinese society before entering the market.

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Education in China: A Social Elevator

Chinese students studying for the Gaokao (University-entry exam)

After the end of the Cultural revolution (1966-1976) followed by its economic modernization, the Chinese government put education at the core of its strategy to quickly catch up with developed countries. Besides several educational and structural reforms, public spendings on education were increased considerably. However, the whole educational sector lagged far behind international standards in terms of quality as well as expectations, and that’s why Chinese parents decided to send their children abroad, in order for them to get qualitative courses from renowned and prestigious Universities.

Harvard students

When it comes to the Chinese education market, overseas schools and international schools were able to gain and attract the best Chinese students, convincing strict parents that are seeking the best for their offspring. This phenomenon is related to globalization, allowing the Chinese population to broaden its perspectives about foreign countries and cultures, but also because the competition between students is tougher than before.

Indeed, education is considered extremely important in China as studying in a renowned university is a social elevator not only for the student but also for its family. In Confucius’ country where traditions and filial piety are part of Chinese daily lives, education is the best tool to enhance living conditions and secure a safe and promising future.

The Covid-19 Impact on the Education Market in China

Over the years, the share of online education in the total education market has increased considerably, thanks to China’s digitalization. This tech-savvy population is now more than ever relying on online platforms to develop their knowledge.

The Covid-19 outbreak in 2020 has further contributed to accelerating this phenomenon, with the rising use of platforms such as Coursera or Italki for example.

Online Education: A Growing Phenomenon

According to Statista, the online education market in China had a market size of approximately 308.2 billion yuan in 2021. After high growth rates in the past few years, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, the online education market is now expected to reach 490.5 billion yuan in 2024.

According to this other data, we can see that 68% of Chinese students are convinced that their formal education has given them the technology knowledge they need, while only 17% of Japanese students, and 25% of German students agree on this.

Understanding the Values and Issues of the Chinese Education System

Children at school (© Yeclo)

The Chinese education system is very different than others. Chinese children start school at 6 years old. They have 6 years of primary school and then three years of junior middle school. After these 9 years, they can continue for 3 more years of senior middle school to complete their studies.

The Chinese education system is one of the most reputed, and Shanghai students are considered the best in the world. Don’t forget that China is ranked among the highest education system worldwide. Many western countries want to include a part of this system into their own academic system.
However, if this kind of education gives a high level of knowledge to students, it’s also a very competitive and demanding system that is being questioned nowadays, with lots of pressure from society.

A Heavy Workload for Chinese Students

On average, Chinese students are spending 8.5 hours in class. They start their day at 7:30 am and finish at 4 pm with two hours of lunch break and naptime. Now you probably think that it is similar to your own education system, but unfortunately, that’s not the case. As in other Asian countries such as South Korea, after class, Chinese students have also tutoring hours till late at night. Nothing mandatory, but not doing can considerably impact admission into the most renowned university in the country. Some students go as far as to retake their last years of high school to score higher on already excellent grades for a chance at entering China’s Top 10 universities.

China Daily)

The school program in China is heavy. It is impossible for teachers to cover all the programs published by the Chinese government during class hours. That’s why most of the students have tutoring classes in mathematics, literature, English, chemistry, and physics. After this long day, they still have to do their homework, and that’s why they have almost no time for them.

In terms of vacations, they also have less than students in western countries, with only 2 periods of holidays: 4 weeks off in winter and 7 weeks off in summer. There’s almost no time for Chinese students to do other things than working. They don’t have time to do other activities such as sports, spend time with friends or family, play games, watch movies, or do social activities. Although you should note that being in good physical shape is becoming more important to compete in Chinese society, thus, we are seeing a rise in “programed” (read: it’s treated like any other extra scholar curriculum class) physical activities for kids and teenagers.

People encouraging students for their Gaokao exams (© New China)

The most important exam for Chinese students is the Gaokao (高考), the national exam that allows them to have access to Universities in the last year of high school. As mentioned earlier, the higher the grades, the more chances students have to get into the most prestigious universities in China and get scholarships. During the gaokao weeks, everything seems to stop in order to encourage students to stay focused.

China and its Societal Transformation

As mentioned earlier, over the years, China was able to quickly follow the path of developed countries, even surpassing some, in major part thanks to education. Decades ago, a lot of Chinese people (that are now grandparents) didn’t have access to education and had to work in factories or work in the fields. Their children know how education can change their lives, and that’s why they are relying on their descendants to have a better life.

Higher wages and a greater purchasing power

Now with a growing middle class, important disposable incomes, and higher standards of living, China is making the transition to a more developed country. China is now focusing more on creative innovations, domestic businesses, services, and professions requiring skilled and qualified workers.

The One-Child Policy

Due to the long-term effects of the «one-child policy» that was established in 1979, China is struggling with an aging population. However, to counter this, the laws have been changed in 2015, allowing parents to have two children without incurring any state fines. Recently in 2021, this law was even changed to three children. However, it is important to say that Chinese parents (often) don’t want more than one child nowadays, because education for example is too expensive.

Out of the 1.39 billion citizens in China, 17% are between the age of 0 and 14, this represents approximately 230 million students. The parents of almost a quarter of a billion children are on average significantly wealthier than 10-20 years ago, spending on education has therefore increased to become the most precious commodity in a fiercely competitive market.

© ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images

The « one-child policy » also acted as an incentive for parents to invest heavily in their children’s education. The official party slogan was “having only one child is good”. The culture of pooling together family resources for their children’s educational development remains prevalent.

New wealth, but better invested

Chinese families prioritize spending in education ahead of any other area, even above real estate and retirement savings. The McKinsey Global Institute projects the country to spend 12.5% of its overall consumption growth on education for those under 30 over the next 15 years.

In addition, according to ICEF Monitor, 50% of the 20 years old’ per capita consumption is spent on education, while it represents only a quarter for American students. Take into account that this phenomenon is not going to stop, and will even continue to rise with the growth of the Chinese middle class.

A shift in terms of school standards and school expectations

With China being the most populous country in the world, the Chinese education system is much more competitive. A lot of experts are stating that children don’t have time to share moments with family or friends, do sports or activities. With the Chinese education system being questioned, many parents decide to send their children abroad in order to broaden their perspectives and have more opportunities.

The Chinese Education System: An Opportunity for Foreign Schools

(© Xinhua)

As stated above, more and more Chinese parents prefer sending their children abroad to study. The Western education system is also very reputed in China, that’s why it is extremely attractive among Chinese parents. The Western education system is known to develop students’ creativity and allowing them to become independent thinkers whereas most Chinese students are considered to be hard-working, persistent, and deep thinkers but without creative spirits.

China: The Country with the Most Students Studying Abroad

Now if we look at the number of students heading overseas to pursue their studies, we can see that the world’s two most populous nations, China and India, lead the way. China is the first, far beyond the other countries. According to UNESCO, China sent 928,000 students abroad in 2017, while India sent out 332,000.

Even if this data is a little old, we can say for sure that it is still relevant and that Chinese students are still prioritizing going overseas to pursue their studies.

Why do Chinese students want to study abroad?

Tsinghua University, among the best universities in China

It is important for you to know that in China, the majority of the best universities are public ones, which means that they get most of their support from the Chinese government. Although the number of institutions for higher education and students enrolled in universities inside China has increased significantly in the last few years, the pathways to get admission from the best universities are still limited. For most people, the national exam “Gaokao” remains the only way to enter a good public university.

Therefore, there are a lot of students that decide to go study abroad in order to avoid the national exam (the Gaokao) and to study in a better-ranked university. For some study programs, overseas institutions are preferred thanks to their international academic environment. Chinese students who have been abroad to study are considered to have a global insight and better language skills, which makes them more competitive in China, compared to their peers who stayed in China.

According to a survey among Chinese overseas returnees, more than 80% of the respondents said that they chose to study abroad to experience foreign cultures and lifestyles. Around 1/3 of the respondents studied abroad to be more competitive in the job market in the future.

Chinese Parents Put Learning English as a top priority

Today, learning English is considered essential in the business world, and that’s why English classes are mandatory in all schools in China, which has also contributed to the increase of private English schools and classes.

Chinese children are learning English from a young age (© Quartz)

For Chinese people, learning English has become the priority, and that’s why Chinese students chose to study in English-speaking countries in order to practice and improve their level of English.

Studying overseas will enhance their resume

Parents know that on the resume of their children, the overseas experience will enhance the resume. Even though English-speaking countries such as Australia, the U.S, and the U.K are still among the top destinations for Chinese students, other non-English-speaking countries such as France, Italy, Spain, and Germany are also among the most popular destinations.

Studying abroad leads to many good job opportunities

After graduating from a foreign country, Chinese students have more chances to be employed abroad. Abroad studies have created a lot of new job opportunities, allowing students to have a better lifestyle and making more money than if they decided to stay in China. However, in recent years, the trend tends to change, with an increasing number of Chinese students that want to return to China after their studies.

According to a survey among Chinese overseas returnees, 60% of them chose to go back to China in order to be with their family and friends, while 42% said it was because of the great economic development of China. In fact, following China’s rapid development, some Chinese companies are extremely attractive among Chinese students, offering various advantages and competitive salaries.

Education defines the social status

International educations, particularly European, American and Australian are considered to be more innovative and creative than their Chinese counterpart. It is also part of a general trend. Chinese people have become more open-minded in terms of culture, education, and beliefs.

The Chinese society is highly competitive and education has become a key to define one’s social status and level of achievement in a society obsessed with the notion of ‘face’. An international education reflects this status and is fundamentally associated with quality.

Where do Chinese students go to study abroad?

According to an educational survey conducted in 2020, the United Kingdom and the United States were the most preferred destinations for Chinese students and their parents. While the United States lost attraction in the last five years, students were more attracted by the United Kingdom and Canada, as well as several Asian countries like Japan or Singapore.

How do Chinese students finance their studies?

With developed countries still being the most popular destinations for Chinese students, it is clear that for some countries, Chinese students have already become an important funding source for local universities. For example, the United States has for a long time attracted the largest share of Chinese students, but in recent years more and more Chinese students are choosing to go to European countries for example, as tuition fees are much less expensive than U.S Universities’ fees.

(© China Daily)

While most students from China were self-funded, relying on their parent’s support, the number of students who stated scholarship recipients had been increasing over the years. Don’t forget that studying overseas is much more expensive than staying in China, both in terms of dormitory but also in terms of lifestyle habits.

Particularities of China’s Education Market

Chinese kids start learning at a young age

Children playing piano

The phenomenon of the « little emperor » is worth mentioning. As a result of the «one-child policy» two sets of grandparents and parents, all focused their attention on a single baby. As a result, you have a whole generation growing up with more funds invested in their education. This has helped the education market grow with whole families investing collectively into their children’s future, from an early age. From the time they start to talk, parents will take them to pre-classes in order to learn the number, listen to stories, learn foreign languages, play instruments, dance, etc in order for their child to become a prodigy.

The Reputation of your School is Key to attract chinese students

If you want to attract Chinese students, your school has to be popular and well know. When they start looking for a school, Chinese parents will spend a lot of time doing research on Baidu to find the best schools. In China more than in any country, online information is crucial. All your information has to be clear, easy to find, and visible. If your school is not really famous, you need to make sure to have a perfect e-reputation because trust is important for Chinese consumers and among the key criteria.

Some countries are more popular studying destinations than others

Some destinations are more appreciated by Chinese students. This is the case of the United States, one of the most popular destinations in the world. Why? Because, if you look at rankings, American schools are the higher-ranked in the world.

Your school has to be in a safe country. Parents will reject sending their children to a dangerous country. That’s also why they prefer countries where they have family members as they will be more reassured.

The advantages of countries having a Chinese community

Chinatown in London

After finding where your school is located, Chinese people will focus on your city. Some cities are more popular because they have lots of very good schools. But Chinese families also prefer cities where there’s a Chinese community, and with a ‘Chinatown’. Among the most popular cities with large Chinese communities, you will find San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, Paris, London, etc. However, on the other hand, some students will prefer to go to cities in which there’s no such a large Chinese community, in order to practice the foreign language even more.

The Shools Ranking Obsession in China

University ranking

In China, ranking is one of the most important criteria. Your school has to appear among the first ranks if you want to attract Chinese students. Before starting any procedure, they will see on international rankings if your school is on the top.

School fees are not a “problem” for Chinese students

Many Chinese students study abroad because their families have more income than 10 or 20 years before.
Today, Chinese families are able to pay more for better studies. They want to invest their money in a good place. In fact, money is not really a problem for these families who can send their children abroad.
They will first look to find the best ranking school and after they will think about school fees. Besides, students are often able to apply for scholarships or financial aids.

How to Promote your Foreign School in China?

(© ICIS Beijing)

China has changed a lot over the years, and Chinese students’ perception as well. How can you capitalize on these changing attitudes? You need to develop a positive reputation and increase your visibility on the internet. Therefore, in order to be successful and generate student leads, you need to be active online and use the best Chinese platforms. Adaptation is the key.

Recruiting Chinese Students Through Online Platforms

Baidu webpage

The shift to predominantly online student recruitment models represents a tremendous opportunity for higher education institutions looking to reach Chinese students. China now boasts a 65% online penetration rate with some 900 million « netizens » online. The Chinese society has embraced digital tools with a fervor stronger than anywhere else in the world. Users are spending on average 3 hours per day browsing online and will surely do research about foreign and international schools online.

However, don’t forget that China’s « Great Firewall » had resulted in a completely unique online eco-system when it comes to student recruitment. Your promotional campaigns have to be tailored to Chinese-specific platforms.

Your School need a Chinese website

A quality mandarin version of your website is necessary. Have a mandarin website allows you to optimize your SEO for search engines. For a better SEO and optimized loading speed, your website also needs to be hosted on a local server in China (.cn).

Oxford University’s Chinese website

Your website should be in Mandarin to optimize search results and also include a QR code for your social media account on top of having a contact form and if possible a live chat service.

All sites in China need to be optimized for mobile as the vast majority of online users browse on their smartphones, there are now 550 million smartphones in China. Mobile content can also be optimized for Wechat China’s largest social network (more on this later..)

Content on the site needs to be created in Mandarin because you’ll be targeting Chinese readers.

Ask yourself some key questions:

  • How do you cater to the Chinese student?
  • What sets you apart as an institution that involves and integrates international students?
  • How will Chinese students boost their opportunities by studying in your school?

The Ranking of your School on Baidu is Essential to reach out Chinese Students

China’s « Google » is Baidu, a giant that represents over 75% of the search engine market. It is thus vital to increase the ranking of your school on this platform.

When looking for ‘foreign universities’ on Baidu

After doing some research, you’ll find that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) will help your website rank higher on Baidu and grow organic traffic to generate more student prospects. Parents are often the decision makers for students so they extensively browse through Baidu results based on keyword searches. The other 25% are mainly through Sogou & So.com. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is one of the best tools to recruit Chinese students.

You can also complete this approach with PPC (Pay Per Click) ads which are displayed at the top of the news feed. However, the most serious student prospects will contact you through the natural search results.

Doing SEO and being effective it’s not easy. It’s better to work with an agency specialized in SEO. SEO can be expensive and very long if you are not sure how to do it.

Increasing your academic reputation & communication on social media

Coverage on China’s top social media platforms is vital for attracting Chinese students. There are over 1.2 billion users on Wechat, the most popular app in China, and over 511 million monthly active use on Weibo (akin to Twitter).

Social Media in China are arguably essential in a country where people are spending 2 hours per day on social media

Your institution needs to be present on social media with an Official Account set up that can be linked to a « microsite ». Having an Official Account is essential in China. When you’ll create your Official Account on social media platforms, they will ask you for a lot of information. This information allows the social media platform to confirm that you are the original brand and no an impostor. With this official recognition, Chinese students will be more confident and will be more likely to share your post and subscribe to your account.

  • Encourage Chinese students to get to know and discover your school through WeChat

Created by the Chinese company Tencent and released in 2011, WeChat was at the beginning only a mobile messaging app. And even though new features were introduced, this functionality remains the core of the app. The platform is marketed as Weixin in China, but was rebranded for international markets in 2012. In 2018, the number of users reached 1 billion which increased significantly from 2017’s numbers.

EF on WeChat

Wechat is the most used social media in China as of 2021 far beyond Weibo. Wechat is expected to grow even more in 2022. The platform is known for its communication services in which users can send messages, share images and videos, voice call and video call other users on a closed network. Having an account on WeChat enables you to promote your school easily. One of the most useful ways to promote your school is to create an H5 brochure to attract Chinese student’s and parents’ attention.

For example, on Wechat you can also add parents and students into group chats to answer academic or student life-related queries. Offering these kinds of services to Chinese students will set you apart. This communication line would typically be managed by a Chinese student liaison officer internally.

The key with social networks is to have daily interaction with prospective students and parents, share content and grow your following. Ad campaigns drive growth and quality content results in prospective students contacting you. The demographic of Wechat is generally older so more for your students’ parents (the Decision Makers) who are active here.

If you want to know more about WeChat H5 Brochures, you can read our full article.

  • Increase your visibility through Weibo, the hot micro-blogging app

Launched in 2009 by the Chinese technology company Sina Corporation (新浪), Weibo is one of China’s biggest social media platforms. As its name indicates, it’s a micro-blogging service that is often compares to Twitter for its buzz potential and short caracteres posts.

The social microblogging network has also attracted more than 130,000 companies. It’s very important for schools and universities to create their own Weibo Official Account, and get their account verified. If your account is signed as verified, you will have more followers because it’s legitimate proof for Chinese users.

More than 56% of Weibo users follow at least one brand or institution on Weibo. In addition, on Weibo, you don’t need to be connected first to follow a brand. Thus, it can be extremely useful to have an official account on Weibo in order to share content, promote your school, as well as to communicate with your students.

If you want more information about Weibo, you can read our Guide to use Weibo for beginners.

Be presents on forums to attract Chinese students

Example of a Career forum invitation

Educational forums are popular in China, people will discuss research education options and talk with other students. Don’t forget that Chinese people still rely a lot on word-of-mouth. In addition, they have more trust when it comes to peers giving advice than schools.

The best online forums for education are: Baidu Tieba, Zhihu, Zhozhui, and QQ.

Zhihu

Another interesting point is that these forums are very visible in China, and will often appear before an official website on Baidu’s natural. While in western countries you might think that forums are outdated, in China, they are still very important for online research and decision-making.

Manage your e-reputation to gain Chinese parents’ trust

Reputation is an important criterion in China. Chinese students and parents will pay attention to your e-reputation. A good attitude is to promote positive comments and threads on social platforms and forums in order to manage the reputation of your school.

The institutions regarded as the best amongst Chinese students are the ones for which their friends, family, and other student are familiar with. Ensuring positive feedback amongst social circles will bolster and strengthen the reputation of your institution.

Influencers and you alumni network can help you

Usually, KOLs (called Key Opinion Leaders) in China, are people who have built up a significant reputation online and are highly influential among young users and students. Recruiting an influencer to represent your institution from a prestigious academic background in China is expensive but allows you to tap into a large base of followers. Key Opinion Leaders are more effective in China because users tend to rely more on word-of-mouth from people that were able to complete their studies abroad and be successful after that.

Alumni can share their experience with Chinese students

Another extremely useful way to attract and retain Chinese students is to use your alumni network. By talking with alumni ambassadors, for example, they’ll be able to ask questions, get to know your school from a student’s perspective, talk about their experience, etc. It’s also a way to reassure Chinese parents, which is fundamental if you want Chinese students to join your school.

Contact us to recruit Chinese students

Defining the right strategy for this market is therefore essential before entering the Chinese market. We are a specialized agency with a wealth of experience in terms of student recruitment. We have worked with a lot of foreign schools to help them develop their attractivity in China.

Our fields of expertise

  • Website Creation, Development & Auditing
  • Baidu Search Engine Optimization
  • WeChat & Weibo Content Marketing
  • Reputation Management & Alumni Community Development.
  • Public Relations & Exposure in Chinese E-Media.
  • Analytics, monthly reports & analysis from our team of experts.

We are a digital agency, working on Chinese social networks and websites. We are also a result-oriented agency. Our goal is to meet our objectives and push them to be better than the average.

We are SEO Experts

We are among the first results you’ll find on Google when looking for entering the Chinese market. However, w have never paid for Google advertising. The sponsored links (SEM) are the links you can find on the top of the research or on the right side. We don’t need to pay because we know how to tame Google’s algorithm. We can help you to find natural solutions without spending all your money on SEO.

We are Professionals in Lead Generation

We are the only agency in Shanghai that doesn’t need to prospect. We don’t call clients and try to convince them to work with us. Clients call us.
Because they find a lot of information about our services and know that we have a lot of solutions to offer. We worked with a lot of schools and colleges, we have a lot of case studies that demonstrate our expertise.

We know what Chinese students are looking for

After more than 10 years dedicated to helping foreign companies and institutions to tap into the Chinese market, we know exactly what Chinese students are looking for, the kind of platforms they use and why. For the education market, we have worked for many schools, to help them promote their reputation in China.

A Dynamique and Native Team

We are a young, vibrant, and creative team with both Chinese natives and foreigners. We are effective because we understand Chinese students and their families. China is indeed full of opportunities for motivated institutions, but it is still complex and difficult to stand among other well-known universities.

Case Study

Accademia Del Lusso

The Accademia Del Lusso is a school of Fashion & Design located in Monte Napoleone, Milan. It’s courses range from fashion to design and luxury style for high-school graduates as well as career professionals. The institute was awarded the Lifetime Achievement award and Prestigious Fashion Profession Award in 2007 by the city of Milan.

The school in Milan called on our agency to attract Chinese students because they wanted to expand internationally into China, the most interesting student market in the world.

Goal

Accademia Del Lusso was set to open its first branch in China and sought to grow its reputation both as a new fashion school in the country and as an overseas option for international students.

Their passion is to find and nurture top talent in Fashion and Design through exporting their rigorous academic style and high standards to their new China branch. Their goal was to apply the fashion-conscious focus of their Milan base to this new location in the orient.

They needed a local partner in China who understood the student lead generation market. That’s why they started a business relationship with Gentlemen because of our years of experience and successful projects in attracting Chinese students.

Results

We generated 50 leads per month of interested students requesting more information about the school’s new branch in China as well as courses at their Milan flagship location. This is a significant result considering the school was largely invisible in this market before they began this digital marketing campaign.

Accademia Del Lusso also became a top search result on Baidu with 10 000 visitors per month driven to their website. This was highly qualified traffic and led to a large ‘buzz’ about the opening of their China branch, establishing the school as the leading Italian Fashion & Design institution in China.

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