How does the WeChat Ban Impact Schools and International Student Programs?

On Friday, September 18th, 2020, the United States Commerce Department issued an order to ban the downloads of two popular Chinese-owned mobile apps, WeChat and TikTok. The U.S. government cites fears over national security and data collection as the reason for the ban. WeChat is a multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payment app and the only lifeline of communication many Chinese international students and Asian Americans have with their loved ones in China. With other popular messaging apps such as Facebook and WhatsApp being unavailable in China, the ban on WeChat would effectively sever ties between Chinese students and their families back home.

The order stated that the app would not be unavailable for download or processing payments beginning on Sunday, September 20. Furthermore, the app would have been rendered entirely unusable for U.S.-based users as the order prohibits the following transactions: “any provision of internet hosting services enabling the functioning or optimization of the mobile application in the U.S.”. Fortunately, for many users, a preliminary injunction was granted to halt the planned ban; however, this may delay the ban for just the time being.

Student and Parent Communication

As a first step, schools and international coordinators are encouraged to reach out to students and their families to reassure their safety and support. This is a significant blow for many Chinese international students and potentially further isolate them from their friends and family during their study abroad journey. It’s essential to communicate your care for your students and parents during this time, offering an open ear and conversation.

Cambridge Network schools can rely on our 6:1 student support team to coordinate communication with students and parents and their international recruitment agencies. Our local Student Development Managers are readily available to handle any international student support cases, and Family Education Advisors are specifically trained for parent and agency communication. As an international education service provider, our digital infrastructure and communication systems are tailored to this global market.

Impact on Global Marketing

This ban may also impact your international student program’s marketing in global audiences such as China. Without having access to the singular source for communication within the Chinese market, business-to-consumer (B2C) engagements will be limited and less efficient, requiring schools to consider outsourcing marketing and communications functions to vendors with a strong local presence.

Schools are recommended to integrate this consideration into their future international student recruitment strategy, adjusting budgets and recruitment channels accordingly.

Next Steps and Alternative Tools

Schools may use this opportunity to review their digital communications ecosystem to ensure that their platforms are accessible to all audiences. COVID-19 has highlighted several critical remote learning restrictions with Google and Dropbox in international markets like China. Schools should consider exploring additional tools for their international student programs such as video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Skype, which are fully accessible in China. Zoom and Skype are also great WeChat alternatives for international students looking for other options to connect with their families in China. Click here for more Best Practices for Implementing Distance Learning for International Students.

QQ is another popular messaging app in China that Chinese students can use if the ban on WeChat is reinstated. Purchasing an international phone card may be one final option for communication. These can be bought online or at many convenience stores and offer a cheaper rate than phone providers for international calling.

Cambridge Network is committed to working with our school partners to deliver the best solutions for your international program needs. As always, please reach out to your Program Manager or Student Support Associate if you have any questions or concerns.