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Navigating the International Student Market: Strategies to Attract Chinese Students

August 24, 2023

With the United Kingdom ranking as the second most popular destination for international students globally, hosting over half a million students from around the world, it's evident that the UK holds a significant presence in the international student market. 

In this diverse landscape, Chinese students play a pivotal role, making up a substantial portion of the international student demographic in the UK.

However, the Chinese student market is often considered a completely different segment when marketing for international students. This is largely due to the unique approach required to reach and engage with this nuanced audience – from cultural differences to different platforms.

Keep reading as we delve into the intricacies of the Chinese student market and provide actionable strategies for UK-based Purpose-Built Student Accommodations (PBSAs) to effectively attract Chinese students to their student housing.

Understanding the Chinese Student Market

In recent years, the influx of Chinese students to the UK has contributed significantly to the country's position as a global hub for international education. Statistics reveal that Chinese students constitute a substantial portion of the international student population in the UK, with their numbers consistently growing. According to the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), China remains the largest source country for non-EU students in the UK.  

In the 2021/2022 academic year, around 151,690 Chinese students were studying in the UK – taking up 27% of all non-EU students in the UK. This was up from 143,820 students in the previous academic year and a significant increase from 107,215 students in 2017/2018 – an increase of over 40% over a five-year period. 

Several factors shape Chinese students' decisions to study overseas. Foremost among these is the desire for a world-class education that can enhance career prospects. UK institutions' reputation for offering quality education aligned with international standards is a significant pull factor. Additionally, many Chinese students view overseas study as a chance to experience new cultures, expand their global network, and develop skills that can be advantageous in an increasingly interconnected world.

Understanding Chinese Student Accommodation Preferences

When it comes to choosing accommodation, Chinese students have distinct preferences that significantly impact their selection of PBSAs. They prioritise both comfort and security, valuing modern amenities and practical services like high-speed internet, study spaces, fitness facilities, and communal areas. Proximity to the university campus, public transportation, and popular shopping districts also hold vital sway in their decision-making process.

Cultural factors also shape their accommodation choices. Many Chinese students prefer living spaces that respect their cultural norms and dietary preferences. Having facilities that accommodate Chinese cuisine or kitchen spaces for preparing meals aligns with their needs and desires.

Recognising these nuances in the Chinese student market is pivotal for UK PBSAs seeking to attract these students. The increasing number of Chinese students highlights the importance of customising marketing strategies to cater to their precise requirements. By understanding the factors influencing their decisions about studying abroad and choosing accommodation, PBSAs can create an environment that resonates with Chinese students, ensuring a more rewarding and fulfilling experience during their UK stay.

Marketing for International Students: Strategies to Attract Chinese Students 

Here are five key marketing strategies to attract Chinese students to your UK PBSA.

1. Leveraging WeChat for Effective Communication and Engagement

With just over 1.3 billion monthly active users, WeChat has woven itself into the fabric of everyday life in China. Its multifunctional capabilities encompass messaging, social networking, e-commerce, and even financial transactions, making it an unparalleled communication tool.

For UK PBSAs seeking to connect with Chinese students, establishing an official WeChat account is a strategic move. This allows direct access to a vast audience and facilitates seamless communication. Sharing engaging content, informative updates, and exclusive promotions through WeChat can foster a sense of community and keep students informed about the latest developments.

To elevate engagement further, PBSAs can tap into the power of WeChat Mini Programs. These streamlined applications within the WeChat ecosystem offer a unique blend of functionality and convenience. Collaborating with platforms like VIVA CITY to create WeChat Mini Programs enhances the user experience. Students can access accommodation information like location and facilities, watch a 360-degree video and communicate with relevant parties – all within the familiar confines of WeChat.

Book a demo to learn how to set up a WeChat Mini Program for your PBSA!

2. Partnering with Influencers and Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs)

Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) hold a position of exceptional influence in the Chinese market. These individuals wield the power to shape opinions, trends, and consumer choices within their dedicated niches. When it comes to attracting Chinese students to UK PBSAs, harnessing the reach of KOLs can be a game-changing strategy.

Identifying the right KOLs within the education and accommodation niche is paramount. Look for individuals whose online presence aligns with the values and offerings of your PBSA. Their credibility and resonance with their audience can significantly impact your campaign's success.

Collaborating with KOLs offers two potent avenues: endorsements and sponsored content. 

  1. Endorsements tap into the KOL's authority, where their approval can lend legitimacy to PBSA offerings.
  2. Sponsored content allows for a more tailored approach, integrating your message seamlessly into the KOL's content, thus reaching a receptive audience.

Measuring the impact of KOL campaigns is a critical step. Monitoring engagement metrics, such as likes, shares, comments, and follower growth, provides insights into the campaign's resonance. Additionally, tracking the influx of inquiries, bookings, or website visits following a KOL collaboration indicates tangible success.

3. Implementing Chinese-Specific SEO and Digital Marketing

Navigating the intricacies of the Chinese digital space requires a tailored approach to SEO and digital marketing. Understanding the prominence of Chinese search engines like Baidu is crucial. Optimising your PBSA website for Chinese keywords and content ensures visibility to your target audience.

However, running a Chinese website comes with challenges:

  1. Language barriers demand accurate translation to resonate with users. 
  2. China's internet regulations necessitate compliance for smooth accessibility. 
  3. The Great Firewall's impact on loading overseas links within China can lead to frustratingly slow user experiences.

To circumvent these challenges, consider an alternative approach. Incorporate a QR code linking your website to your WeChat Mini Program. This offers a smoother experience for users, as WeChat's ecosystem is well-versed in bypassing these constraints. Leveraging WeChat not only circumvents loading issues but also aligns with the platform most Chinese students rely on.

For an example of how this works, check out CRM Students homepage. On the bottom left corner of their website, they have placed a QR code to their VIVA CITY WeChat Mini Program. Chinese students arriving on their website can quickly scan the QR code and head straight to their customised WeChat Mini Program, which provides all the necessary information.

4. Offering Tailored Services and Support for Chinese Students

Catering to the unique needs of Chinese students goes beyond accommodation amenities – it extends to the services and support provided. Ensuring a seamless experience for these students involves several key strategies.

  1. Firstly, offering Chinese-language customer support and communication is essential. Clear and effective communication in their native language builds trust and enhances their comfort level. This needs to start at the inquiry stage through ongoing support for students once they’ve moved in.
  2. To address concerns related to visa uncertainties, implementing a “no visa, no pay” policy offers reassurance. This policy acknowledges the challenges of visa applications and underscores your commitment to their well-being.
  3. Orientation and cultural integration programs play a pivotal role in helping Chinese students acclimate. These initiatives foster a sense of belonging and provide practical insights into life in the UK.
  4. Recognising and addressing cultural differences is equally vital. Providing resources and guidance on cultural norms, academic expectations, and social dynamics can help alleviate potential challenges.

Tailoring services and support for Chinese students involves a holistic approach that acknowledges their unique circumstances. From language support and visa reassurances to cultural integration programs and addressing cultural differences, these strategies create an environment where Chinese students feel valued and supported throughout their UK study journey.

5. Showcasing Cultural Sensitivity and Inclusivity

Fostering a welcoming environment for Chinese students within UK PBSAs involves embracing cultural sensitivity and inclusivity. By integrating their cultural identity into various aspects, PBSAs can create a more enriching and supportive experience.

Here are a few ways to show cultural sensitivity and inclusivity:

  1. Celebrating Chinese festivals and holidays on the premises is a gesture that acknowledges their traditions and values. It promotes a sense of belonging and allows them to share their customs with fellow students.
  2. Incorporating Chinese elements into the PBSA's interior design adds a touch of familiarity. From décor to artwork, these visual cues resonate with Chinese students, making them feel more at home.
  3. Promoting diversity and multiculturalism in marketing materials showcases an open and inclusive community. It sends a strong message that cultural backgrounds are valued and respected.
  4. Organising cultural exchange events facilitating interactions between Chinese and local students encourages cross-cultural understanding. These events offer opportunities for shared experiences, fostering friendships and broadening perspectives.

Showcasing cultural sensitivity and inclusivity requires proactively honouring and embracing Chinese culture. UK PBSAs can create an environment where Chinese students feel valued, respected, and fully integrated into the larger student community by celebrating festivals, incorporating cultural elements, promoting diversity, and facilitating cultural exchange.

How to Optimise Your International Student Market Strategy for Chinese Students

Crafting an effective marketing strategy to attract Chinese students requires a strategic and informed approach. Here are key steps to optimise your approach:

  1. Start with comprehensive market research to understand Chinese students' preferences, behaviours, and expectations. This foundation allows you to tailor your strategy to resonate with their specific needs.
  2. Allocate a budget and plan resources for translating and localising your digital marketing materials. Accurate translations and culturally relevant content demonstrate your commitment to addressing their unique requirements.
  3. Emphasise the importance of selecting the right platforms from the outset. Establish a strong presence on platforms like WeChat, which is central to their online interactions. A robust WeChat presence enhances your accessibility and engagement.
  4. Continuously monitor and optimise your marketing strategy based on performance data. Analyse metrics such as engagement rates, website traffic, and conversion rates. Adapt your strategy based on these insights to ensure a consistent and effective outreach.

Optimising your marketing strategy for Chinese students necessitates thorough research, budget planning, platform selection, and ongoing optimisation. By tailoring your approach to their preferences and maintaining a strong online presence, you can ensure your PBSA resonates with this crucial demographic.

Marketing to Chinese Students Requires a Unique Approach

In the pursuit of attracting Chinese students to UK PBSAs, a multifaceted approach is essential. Understanding the distinctive characteristics of the Chinese student market, such as their preferences and needs, is paramount. Offering tailored services, leveraging cultural sensitivity, and implementing effective marketing strategies are pivotal in creating an environment that resonates with these students.

Partnering with experts in the Chinese market, such as VIVA CITY, is a strategic move that can provide invaluable insights and tools to enhance your efforts. Additionally, incorporating Chinese-specific SEO, engaging with influencers and KOLs, and fostering a diverse and inclusive environment all contribute to a comprehensive approach. 

By prioritising cultural inclusivity, providing tailored services, and consistently optimising your strategies, UK PBSAs can stand out and capture the attention of the vibrant Chinese student market.

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