At the risk of sounding cliché, we are arguably in a golden age for Chinese international study abroad. China, with staggering middle-class and upper-middle-class consumers, is undergoing a seismic shift in terms of its values, tastes, and expectations, especially when it comes to standards of education.
A record number of Chinese students were enrolled in faculties abroad in 2021, accounting for a total of 1.061.511. We see a growing number of wealthy Chinese leaving the country, and we are sure, that the number of Chinese students interested in international education will keep on increasing.
In this blog post, we will focus on solutions for foreign colleges and universities on how they can improve Chinese student recruitment to their faculties.
An overview of China’s study-abroad situation
According to ICEF Monitor, 2022 has seen a record of Chinese students studying abroad. In 2018, there were around 520.000 students enrolled in international universities, and in 2021, just three years later, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the numbers already doubled, accounting for a total of 1.061.511. In addition, another 200.000 students were taking part in exchange programs.
With around 40 million students in higher education and a growing amount of Chinese parents with big disposable income, China is the largest study-abroad market in the world, offering great opportunities for many schools and institutions abroad.
Experts agree that spending on education in Chinese families in the upcoming years will increase. Forecasts show, that between 2015 and 2030, China is expected to spend 12.5% of overall consumption growth on education for people under 30. It is the highest score among all the countries.
What is more, it is estimated that the graduating class of 2025 at international curriculum schools will reach the record, with over 110.000 graduates seeking higher education, many of them abroad. It’s an increase of 42% of the graduating class in 2021, according to a study by Yi School.
Which countries are recruiting Chinese students in 2023?
There won’t be a surprise when we say that for many years the number of Chinese students enrolled in US institutions made up almost 50% of the total number of students. But in recent years many Chinese students decide to enroll in higher education institutions elsewhere. Today, the number of current Chinese students enrolled in the US is still the highest of all the countries, but it’s decreasing, accounting for 1/3 of the total amount.
If it’s not the US, then where are potential students from China applying? As Chinese parents were alarmed by the hostility of the US during the pandemic, a rising amount of racist assaults and aggressive political rhetoric from the Trump administration, and tougher visa requirements, they started sending their children elsewhere.
Additionally, Chinese students and education agents are drawn by many good universities in Australia, the UK, Japan, and Canada. Those places are becoming hot international student recruitment destinations, as well as many other European countries, like Germany, France, and Sweden.
When it comes to the US, the situation will be better in time, because Chinese families still value the most the US education, and also because of the language, as English is one of the main reasons for Chinese students to move abroad. The numbers are predicted to bounce back, especially until 2025, but many depend on the US government and visa restrictions.
Why do Chinese students choose foreign universities?
There are many reasons for Chinese students to choose foreign universities over domestic ones. It’s important to explain, that the majority of top universities in China are public ones, which are far cheaper than private ones, as they are mostly funded by the Chinese government. But it also means it’s very hard to get in and everything relies on the final scores from Gaokao, which is the most important exam in China, written at the end of high school.
As the competition is fierce and there is huge pressure on Chinese families and students to pass the exam, which also requires years of preparation and money for after-school tutoring, Chinese families decide to take a different path, trying their chances in other Asia, Australian and Western universities.
In addition, international students have a better chance to find a good job in China. They are believed to have better language skills and are better experienced in communicating with people from different cultures. These skills are highly valued in China, especially in well-paid international positions, that require people to communicate with customers from around the world.
2022 was a year with the biggest amount of Chinese millionaires leaving the country (10.000 already left Mainland China and 3000 moved out from Hong Kong). China is facing a slowdown in economic development, caused by prolonged covid restrictions that don’t see any improvement. Chinese people are frustrated, real estate market is also facing a crisis, causing many wealthy people and China’s middle class to consider moving abroad. As the whole families are looking for new homes, there will be more students interested in abroad education in the upcoming years.
How to Recruit Chinese Students?
As levels of wealth grow so does the prioritization of high-quality education. In evolving societies, this is always a key indicator of progress. The Chinese, particularly as a result of the one-child policy, invest heavily in their Children’s future with an ‘international education’ highly prized. The question is how do you grow the visibility and reputation of your institution in China to attract students in the most cost-effective way?
Chinese student’s online recruitment
With over 900 million Chinese now online this is the largest and most active internet sphere in the world. The average online user spends 1.5 hours per day browsing online, it cannot be stressed enough that in China the solution is digital marketing.
Understanding where and how students & parents are searching online for information is the key to targeted marketing of your schools & courses to the most qualified and relevant students. If you want to help Chinese students select a university, the best strategy to recruit is online.
Universities and colleges are looking to drive leads directly to their admissions team and build the brand of the school in the minds of students & their parents.
With the right strategy, institutions will have more control over how they are presented online in the largest student market in the world.
Having a Chinese website, or content in Chinese on the existing one
A quality Chinese landing page and version of the site are a necessity. This should be optimized for search engines and hosted on a local server in China for faster loading. All sites in China need to be optimized for mobile as the vast majority of online users browse on their smartphones. 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 the Chinese language with the Chinese reader in mind. You need to ask yourself, how to cater to Chinese students and what can you offer so that it will set you apart as an institution that involves and integrates international students. And what is more, how will the Chinese boost their opportunities by studying with you internationally and also back in China?
Additionally, Chinese people are used to good customer service, so it’s best to have someone at school who can speak Chinese and also respond in Chinese to all the possible questions coming to the website and school’s emails. We also advise adding a chat on the page, so that Chinese and international applicants can get their answers fast and conveniently.
GMA Case Study: La Rochelle Business School
You can see an example of a good website targeting Chinese students. We worked with La Rochelle Business School, trying to improve its visibility and e-reputation in China. The results were remarkable, ranking the website on the first page on Baidu. The school managed to attract 30 Chinese students per year.
Search engine optimization with Baidu
Search engine optimization is the bedrock of any comprehensive student drive in China. Most of all online research is conducted via Baidu, China’s largest engine. Search Engine Marketing is one of the best tools to Recruit Chinese students.
Baidu can be seen as ‘China’s Google’ and over time you need to rank highly in the natural search results, this is where the most qualified students & parents are searching for information. As the choice of schools is huge, you can expect through research. Most Chinese students spend months choosing their dream university, so you can be sure they will check ALL the information there is.
Your site and content need to be:
- Optimized to drive leads
- Keywords & search terms are closely monitored
- Precise and in line with an intelligent search advertising campaign
Using social media as a launchpad to attract Chinese students
Coverage on Chinese social media platforms is vital for student enrollment. There are over 1.26 billion users on WeChat and platforms like Little Red Book or Douyin (Chinese Tik Tok) are used by young Chinese every day. Social Media in China is the most active in the world.
Your institution needs to be present on social media with an ‘official account’ set up that can be linked to a ‘micro site’. A lot of traffic can be driven to a WeChat page, particularly when you embed QR links in posts on other social media.
WeChat is fondly called the ‘WeChat Times’ because so much information is sourced via this app whilst Weibo is the most ‘open network’ in China and great for high visibility posts, users can see content posted by anyone, they do not have to be connected first.
You can also use platforms like Little Red Book and Douyin to reach Chinese students through more casual content, showing the student’s life in your school, all the additional events and faculties, interesting initiatives, and so on. You can be sure that your potential students will look this up, so it’s best to have an attractive social media strategy, that will convince them to select your university.
The key to 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 demographics of WeChat are generally older so more of the parents (i.e the Decision Makers) are active here.
Branding your school – reputation is everything
‘Branding’ is not a word typically associated with education but in China, branding is everything, the Chinese need to buy into your courses and education offering, in short.. they are looking for a prestigious reputation. If you want to recruit students from China, you won’t see any recruitment efforts if you don’t work on your reputation.
Placing a school on the Baike page (Chinese Wikipedia) and other such trustworthy platforms is a good way to build your status. Also ensure you feature positive, accurate, and ample information that is highly visible for Mandarin keyword searches.
There are also many education forums to consider with specific threads dedicated to discussing different schools and courses abroad. It is important to create positive conversations between Chinese users as this is 5 times more effective for student lead generation.
If you work with a partner in China, you can also take care of good online PR. This way, you will increase your ranking in Baidu by having more backlinks and mentions of your university, and you will also look more trustworthy to most Chinese parents and students.
GMA Case Study: Accademia Del Lusso
Accademia Del Lusso wanted to recruit Chinese students and was largely invisible in China before launching an intelligent campaign to grow its reputation and visibility on Baidu.
The reputable school of fashion and design in Milan wanted to attract students to their Italian location and increase awareness of a new branch launch in Mainland China.
Their reputation globally is very strong after winning both the ‘Lifetime Achievement’ and ‘Leading Fashion School’ awards in 2007. Having said this, because of China’s distinct online environment, they had little presence in the Chinese market.
To recruit Chinese students, the institution’s goal was to increase their e-reputation through Baidu search engine promotion to rank highly in the natural search results whilst running PPC banner ads and links.
Accademia Del Lusso drove 50 students ‘ leads per month to their administration team on top of 10 000 visitors per month to their Chinese site. This is indicative of the potential growth in China with even a niche academic offering generating so much interest.
Are you looking for a local partner in China? Contact us!
The best time to start attracting Chinese students to your university is now and the number of students in China interested in getting their education in other countries will only grow. Although we mentioned the best ways to attract students to your university and other institutions, it’s not easy and requires a lot of market know-how in order to succeed.
This is why we are offering you our expertise. We are a China digital agency with over 10 years of experience. We worked with many educational institutions over the years, helping them reach students in China through high-ranking sites, online webinars, social media sites, and so on.
We offer many different services, starting from market research, analysis of competitor’s websites, and the performance of many institutions promoting their services in China. We also offer web design services, public relations, branding, social media strategy, and many more, depending on your needs.