Since the turn of the century, the number of students studying abroad at a tertiary level has nearly doubled, with China being the largest contributor to the pool of foreign students.
In 2010 there were approximately 550,000 Chinese students pursuing higher education in a foreign country. More than 1 in 6 foreign students originate from China.
Not surprisingly, that’s created a huge push from educational institutions in the UK to attract Chinese students.
Tailor your offering
It’s tempting to take a one size fits all approach when it comes to attracting foreign students. What works in Australia should work in China. However the fact is what works in one country often won’t cut it in another.
The simplest example of this is the digital space. Google, the search behemoth, dominates many markets. It’s the leading player in Europe and North America, as well as in many emerging markets such as India. However with nearly 75% of the market, the largest search engine in China is in fact Baidu.
According to Paul Hoskins, chairman of Precedent, a marketing agency working in the higher education sector, you may also need to tailor your offering. “A simple example is to ensure that a required/featured module in any programme aimed at China is Business and/or Management,” he says. “These subjects are highly valued.”
League tables are vital
One of the key factors for Chinese students is league tables. At first glance this may seem pretty obvious and not all that helpful. Educational institutions already spend a lot of time looking at league tables and how to improve their standing.
However the important factor here is that Chinese students will not only look at the league tables for the university as a whole; they will also look at the league tables for specific subject areas.
Consequently, it’s vital that you focus on your strengths. Avoid the temptation to market all of your courses in China. This might seem self-defeating. The more courses you offer the more you’ll sell, right? But the simple fact is if you’re average or below average in a certain area, your marketing efforts in China are likely to be wasted. If you’re good at something, focus on that.
Factors out of your control
Other factors that are important to Chinese students include immigration issues, attitudes towards international students, standardised tests required by schools such as the SAT and how easy the visa application is.
These factors may be out of your control, but that does not mean they should be overlooked.
For example, if the visa application is difficult, any assistance you can provide will pay dividends down the line. This may be as simple as providing some additional support pages on your website specifically tailored to Chinese students.
Just because you can not control a factor, don’t think you can’t affect how it is perceived and handled.
Some of this may seem obvious, but the key factor is not to take a boilerplate approach to attracting Chinese students. Consider their needs, consider their concerns, and consider what it is you can offer that will make the 5000 mile trip worthwhile.
Hannah Sweeney works for 4Ps Marketing.