Increasing Reliance on Digital Marketing Channels for International Student Recruitment in China

Key Takeaways

  • International secondary student enrollment is on the decline, including major markets such as China.
  • Increased reliance on digital channels for student recruitment as the vast majority of Chinese students use mobile and social media to make decisions on studying abroad.
  • Even with the expansion of in-person events in 2021, virtual fairs and webinars will continue to play an essential role in reaching prospective students for the foreseeable future.

International secondary student enrollment is on the decline and has been decreasing yearly since 2016. In addition, while the number of J-1 visas at the secondary level remains stable, the number of F-1 visa holders, diploma-seeking students, has shrunk in recent years. International students from Asian countries account for the largest populations of F‐1 visas, with nearly 50 percent from China alone. Following the same trend, the top three senders of secondary international students to the U.S. – China, Germany, and South Korea – all had declining student numbers over the last five years (Studying for the Future: International Secondary Students in the United States by the Institute of International Education). The fall coincides with a flattening economic outlook and uncertain financial future for many Chinese families. The expansion of international secondary schools in China during this time frame presents affordable options for Chinese students to earn a high school diploma at home and pursue a university education overseas. Since 2014, more than 200 new international schools opened in China alone, increasing enrollment from 270,400 to 395,600 students (ISC Research, 2020).

Moreover, those in the international education industry can be optimistic about China’s economic outlook. Its middle class is still growing, and just over a year after the world’s first coronavirus cases were identified in China, the country’s economy has bounced back. China’s economy grew by 2.3% last year, according to data published Monday by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics, which is closer to pre-pandemic levels than almost any other country. According to a recent BBC report, China’s economy also grew a record 18.3% in the first quarter of 2021. Even with slower outbound student growth, China remains a vital student recruitment market because of its size, wealth, and underlying demands of its studnets. Additionally, Chinese students still want to study abroad because of the many disadvantages of China’s domestic university system. Eventually, the pandemic travel restrictions will lift, and there will be renewed interest in study overseas.

Chinese students generally plan to study abroad two to three years ahead. So, when international student programs are courting prospective students, the students are making decisions two or three years from now.

The question is, which schools will be best positioned to capture that renewed interest? If your school hasn’t been reaching out to students, will you have fewer leads in the pipeline once it is possible for students to travel again?

Increased Reliance on Digital Marketing Channels

A 2016 study by Chegg, The Social Admissions Report: China Edition, found that 70% of prospective Chinese students use a smartphone as their primary tool for researching study abroad options, and 90% of prospective Chinese students said they would use social media when deciding on an institution or school.

When all student recruitment events in China shifted online this year, international student programs and agencies relied heavily on their digital promotion streams. Virtual student events are particularly challenging to organize because of the vast time differences between China and major study destinations. Additionally, the added challenge of the Chinese firewall means that only webinars and presentations delivered from within China may prove to be effective, and follow-up actions after such virtual events must be carefully calibrated for the Chinese market. For example, providing follow-up communication on major Chinese platforms such as WeChat for students and families is a must.

Luckily, Cambridge Network has the resources and local staff to organize and execute both in-person and virtual recruiting events for this target audience. Cambridge Enhanced Marketing is designed to meet the challenges of today’s international student recruitment market. With this new service, your school will take an active role in international student marketing with guidance through the process by our expert student recruitment team. Boost your program’s visibility and build your brand by leveraging our global Network, leading expertise, and industry-proven marketing methods.

Cambridge Enhanced Marketing for international student programs provides:

  • An integrated marketing solution.
  • A strategic approach to integrating communications.
  • Interactive events targeting a defined global market.

For current Cambridge Network partners looking to learn more about Cambridge Enhanced Marketing, please contact your Program Manager.

For new schools looking for more information on Cambridge Enhanced Marketing, please click here for an informational brochure or contact us at [email protected].