China is the largest source country of international students for the UK, and the rate at which Chinese students opt for UK (and US) based universities continues to overtake other international study destinations. While other non-EU countries are sending fewer students abroad each year, with the number of non-EU PG students in the UK down by 10% between 2014/15 to 2017/18, the number of students from China is expected to maintain a year-on-year growth of 8%. 

In this article, we will unpack the links between the numbers of Chinese students heading to the UK and the underlying driving forces, to shed light on the most cost-effective China marketing strategies during this turbulent time. 

First things first, the landscape

The UK is currently the second most popular country for international study for Chinese students, and has celebrated a continuous increase in prospective students. Although the most popular destination remains the US, its growth rate has slumped to a mere 1.7%, down from 29.9% in 2009/2010. Meanwhile, there has been an record-breaking growth in Chinese UCAS applicants in the UK.

Reasons for this climb in preference? Firstly, there are less rigorous entry requirements for Chinese students. With more UK universities accepting students based on GaoKao scores than ever before, barriers presented to Chinese prospects have been lifted. Degree programmes in the UK are also shorter than those in the US, so students and families benefit from saving money and time while completing a degree. 

The current circumstances are having an effect, too. From the new PSW visa, to US-China tensions, and the ongoing impact of Covid-19, it all affects Chinese students’ perceptions of and opinions on studying abroad, and it will continue to impact their decisions, regardless of whether their intention is UK or US study.

But on balance, pursuing a degree in the UK has become an increasingly practical option concerning both academic returns and associated costs for Chinese students looking to study abroad. 

So, if you’re a UK institution that’s looking to maximise the potential of increased numbers of Chinese students to your institution, we’ve got some recommendations for you:

Stand out with PG marketing 

UK PG programmes have long been considered as the most cost-effective choice for Chinese students planning to study abroad, thanks to the one-year timescale and lower associated costs. So, use marketing to your advantage to attract those who are still in the early stages of deciding whether or not to study abroad. PG prospects are naturally older and more mature than their UG counterparts, so parents are typically more supportive in their overseas journey and play a positive role throughout the decision-making process.

Highlight career prospects

While an overseas degree certificate might have been the golden ticket for joining big-name companies in China 15 years ago, the novelty is wearing off. Although some may resonate with the old Chinese saying ‘a thing is valued if it is rare', we need to get our prospects to see the bigger picture; overseas work experience is highly beneficial to their careers. In fact, ‘strengthening competitiveness in the job market’ has been one of the top motivators for studying abroad, and tailoring career-based messages to address students’ specific pain points is essential. 

Research shows that Business (51%) and Art Design (11%) are the top two course areas for Chinese students, followed by Engineering, Media and Computer Science. So understanding the motivations of your international students and the careers they want to pursue are crucial to tapping into that career-focused drive.

Social responsibility and support to the Chinese community is key

Information perceived by Chinese audiences might be limited and biased due to the Internet firewall, so to reassure them, you need to communicate with them directly on the right platforms. Keep your prospective Chinese students informed with up-to-date information regarding Covid-19 and safety measures, at national, regional and university levels. 

Studies show that Chinese students proactively search for information about universities’ Chinese communities and activities during their decision-making journey, as they believe these things reflect how seriously the university takes them. Which ultimately defines how they feel about the institution. Through using native platforms such as WeChat, Weibo and Douyin (Chinese TikTok) you can connect to them in a natural and authentic way, showing Chinese students that they are a welcomed, valued addition to your campus. 

Whether you’ve been doing China marketing for years or are unsure when to kick start a campaign, now is the perfect opportunity to capitalise on your China marketing efforts. Get in touch with our experts today. 

Article by

Yushan Luo

China Marketing & Media Strategist