It continues to amaze me that though we’re almost in the third decade of the 21st C, most universities in both North America and the UK still rely on techniques that they were using 40 years ago. The market has grown hugely over the last decade or three, the world has gone completely digital, and yet most universities – at least those recruiting in China – still rely on local agents, partnerships and attendance at fairs.

There’s one large education agent in China who ‘represents’ over 300 universities – mostly in the USA and UK – but also Canada and Australia. How on earth can this agent really know the differences between these universities when there’s almost one for every day of the year? If you want to be successful in Chinese student recruitment, you have to go direct to the student.

Chinese students are wary of agents’ university recommendations because they know that they take a commission from each and every one. So though they often value agent services such as advice on visas, personal statements and application completion, they much prefer to do their own research and make up their own short-lists, before visiting the agent(s) of their choice.

And where do they go to research university options? Online of course, where else? But online in China is very different from online outside the PRC. Western universities have complete sections on their domestic websites for Chinese students, blissfully unaware that downloading a Western university website from within the PRC will take so long that most students will give up trying. We know universities who also encourage Chinese offer-holders to check them out on Facebook or YouTube, ignoring the inconvenient fact that these social media do not exist in China.

The higher education market in China is second only in value to the automotive market. It’s time that Western universities recognised that if they want to be really successful in recruiting the brightest and best Chinese students, they have to have a strong online presence – with locally hosted Chinese websites that download in seconds and are Baidu SEO friendly, an active presence on China’s highly sophisticated social media (WeChat, Weibo, YouKu), and regular online PR – boosting the reputation of universities not just among students, but also Chinese academia.