How to attract Chinese students: four tips for overseas universities
“Chinese parents and students are in an investment mindset when they are looking to study overseas”
Susan Fang, CEO of Academic Powerhouse, writes about what Chinese students and parents look for in an overseas university. Part of OxBridge Holdings, Academic Powerhouse is a leading educational consultancy providing independent and professional advice on all aspects of UK education as well as all aspects of China and Far East education.
Studying overseas has become a fashion, a new normal in China.
According to China’s Ministry of Education, 459,800 Chinese students went abroad in 2014, an 11.1% increase over the year before. China has now become the world’s top source of overseas students, with 14% of the global total.
As an international education specialist between East and West, one of my key roles is to advise Western universities and schools on how to attract Chinese students in this increasingly competitive market segment.
Here are my four insider tips on how Western educational institutions can market to Chinese students better. The key is to have a true understanding of what Chinese parents and students really want when they are looking to study overseas.
1. Return on investment
Chinese parents and students are in an investment mindset when they are looking to study overseas. They have a fixed mentality on what makes a good university.
They are looking for their best ROI – in both tangible and intangible terms.
Tangible return is about getting a qualification from a good university or school. This qualification must come with a physical certificate and is recognised by the MOE. If your institution is not listed, even if your courses are vouched by industry professionals in the Western world, the Chinese will not buy in.
“Chinese parents and students focus a lot on the “hardware”, which is often the benchmark for a good university and school in China”
Intangible returns are about prestige, status or anything that can add value to how they are perceived (their ‘face’), which arguably is even more important than tangible return in some circumstances. For example, Chinese parents and students focus a lot on the “hardware”, which is often the benchmark for a good university and school in China. They like grand buildings, large campus, modern facilities and en-suite accommodation for their children to live comfortably.
2. Get the branding (naming) right
Recognisable names are very important when marketing to Chinese parents and students.
When they choose schools, they often look for famous names. For example, in the UK, it would be Oxford and Cambridge. In the US, it would be the ‘Ivies’. Chinese parents might not know which eight institutions make up the Ivy League, but if you say a university is in this “power group,” or any elite group that has a selective few members, then the Chinese will embrace it.
They also look for names that associate with recognisable cities and areas, such as the London School of Economics and Political Science, which carries the name of the capital; the University of Manchester, which reminds them of the great football leagues, the University of Toronto, which triggers the association of their affluent immigrant families; and NYU, which represents the Big Apple and the big American dream. Chinese parents and students love these facts.
3. Enlist popular subjects
Understanding what Chinese students want to study is also important to winning their custom.
At the moment and in the next few years, most Chinese students are still largely focusing on business-oriented subjects, such as accounting, finance, international business management and marketing.
“As the wealth gap in China is getting narrower and people start to think about non-materialistic fulfilment and satisfaction, I predict that there would be a shift to ‘softer’ subjects”
However, as the wealth gap in China is getting narrower and people start to think about non-materialistic fulfilment and satisfaction, I predict that there would be a shift to ‘softer’ subjects in the next decade. Chinese students would start wanting to study something more related to creativity entrepreneurship, international development, or design management.
4. Embrace league tables and rankings
Chinese people love rankings. It’s deep-rooted in Chinese heritage, way back to Han Dynasty time when the imperial service exam system played a critical role in shaping one’s intellectual, social and political life in China. In the old days, the higher scores you got, the better job and the higher social status you would get.
Despite recent economic advancement in China, this tradition still runs in our Chinese blood and remains deeply influential in today’s modern society.
Therefore, Western universities and schools must play the game to get some good rankings for themselves if they want to attract Chinese students.
Above and beyond, marketing Chinese students is not exactly rocket science. It is all about understanding their needs and desires, and then matching them and managing their expectations.