International students play a huge role in the stability and development of universities, with entrants from outside the European Union making up to 60% of those commencing on postgraduate full-time taught masters degrees. It has been estimated by Universities UK that international students contribute up to £25 billion per year to academic institutions and therefore to the UK economy.
This is expected to continue rising, with students from China playing an ever-increasing role. From 2007-2008 to 2015-2016, there were 22,000 additional Chinese entrants starting full-time taught Masters’ courses compared with only 5,000 extra from other international Masters’ entrants. This continuous rise in students from China, and the financial potential they hold in tuition fees, has seen many Western universities increasing their outreach efforts to Chinese international students. But how can you maximise on this?
There are several key trends in higher education marketing that can help your university an international competitive edge recruiting Chinese students. The most important way is to have a strong online presence on the internet in China.
Create a Chinese website
Part of this comes through building a Chinese website. This holds a huge amount of potential – not only will it be picked up by search engines looking for Chinese language sites, but it will also appeal to students in their native language. This direct communication will show a real effort to reach out to them, but will also ensure that nothing is lost or misunderstood through sites such as Google Translate doing it on behalf of the university. It also means cultural nuances or areas of interest that would only really appeal to a Chinese audience are mentioned, or can be expanded upon further. This might include talking specifically about Chinese groups or organisations on campus that they could join. The basis of the site can be the existing university site, with many of the same images and course overviews.
Having a Chinese website can improve an institution’s chances of being found on the number one Chinese search engine Baidu. As with Google, this holds a huge amount of benefit as it means your university will be the first choice that pops up when potential students search for your courses. This, in itself, will increase how many people enquire about enrolling at your university.
Build presence on Chinese social media
Another key way of building a successful online presence is through Chinese social media such as WeChat, Weibo and YouKu. These have huge Chinese audiences. WeChat has more than 800 million users and Weibo has over 300 million users. It’s important to use social media to find out what people are saying about your university, and if there are any negative communications, it’s crucial to get involved in this where possible to help change people’s perceptions. You can help to make your institution better known in the Chinese landscape, and can also establish how you are considered against your competitors so that you can start to improve your presence. WeChat is one of the best to use as it is the largest social media platform in China, and a place where you’ll find an engaged community. One key way of reaching students is ensuring all your communications are mobile-optimised and smartphone friendly.
In establishing your brand presence, you will also be able to promote your institution across multiple platforms for a broader outreach approach. In this, you can communicate directly with a great number of potential students. This can be timely and responsive – and is best optimised when a clear content and communications plan is in place with solid ideas on how to promote your university, its events, and the courses. The reward for these efforts will be a surge in how many Chinese students hear about your institution and want to come on board.