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PBSA's Untapped Goldmine: The Enormous Size of the International Students Market

September 11, 2023

As the UK continues to attract a significant number of international students, the demand for suitable accommodation has soared. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) providers to expand their reach and increase revenue.

Among the vast pool of international students in the UK, the Chinese student market stands out as one of the most lucrative. PBSA providers must embrace digital marketing strategies and leverage platforms like WeChat to effectively tap into this market.

But how big is the international student market as a whole? And what are the best strategies for digital marketing for international students, particularly the Chinese student market? Keep reading to find out.

Understanding the International Student Market from a Global Context

The international student market refers to the global population of students studying abroad in countries other than their home country. It encompasses students pursuing undergraduate, postgraduate, and research programs.

According to recent statistics, the number of international students worldwide is rapidly increasing. As educational borders dissolve, students increasingly seek enriching experiences abroad. 

The UK's reputation for quality education makes it a prime destination, drawing a diverse pool of talents. Because of this, the UK has the second largest population of international students globally, with over half a million as of 2022. And it’s continuing to grow. There was an 80% increase in international student enrolment at the postgraduate level between the 2017/18 and 2021/22 academic years.

This upward trend presents immense opportunities for PBSA providers. International students often have specific accommodation needs, and PBSAs are well-suited to meet these requirements. With their modern amenities, convenient locations, and tailored services, PBSAs offer an attractive housing option for international students.

How Big is the International Student Market in the UK?

The international student market in the UK has evolved into a significant and thriving sector with far-reaching implications for higher education, the economy, and various industries. Over the past few decades, the UK has established itself as a global educational hub, attracting a diverse array of students from all corners of the world. This trend has led to a substantial increase in the size and impact of the international student market.

The latest data by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows that the total number of international students in the UK is 679,970. Of this, 559,825 are non-EU students – a 23% increase from the previous year. 

The University College London has the highest number of international students from both the EU and non-EU, with other popular universities for international students being the University of Glasgow, the University of Oxford and Open University. The University of Glasgow has the highest number of Non-EU postgraduate students

The economic contribution of international students to the UK cannot be understated. These students not only bring their academic aspirations but also contribute significantly to local economies. The economic benefit brought in by international students was estimated at around £42bn in 2021/2.

Through tuition fees, accommodation expenses, and day-to-day spending, international students inject billions into the economy each year. This financial infusion supports local businesses, job creation, and economic growth, particularly in sectors closely tied to student needs, such as accommodation, dining, transportation, and leisure activities. 

For PBSA brands, this growth represents a significant opportunity. As international student numbers increase, so does the demand for quality accommodations. However, this opportunity comes with challenges, such as understanding cultural preferences and delivering exceptional customer experiences. 

Marketing to Chinese students in particular presents challenges tied to cultural nuances, language barriers, and navigating China's unique digital landscape. Understanding these intricacies is vital for building trust, effectively communicating value, and tailoring strategies to resonate with this dynamic audience.

VIVA CITY's innovative approach using WeChat Mini Programs offers a solution to these challenges – particularly for brands looking to target the growing Chinese student population. By leveraging WeChat's popularity and the tailored nature of Mini Programs, PBSA brands can directly engage with Chinese students and parents, building trust and efficiently marketing their accommodations.

Why the Focus on the Chinese Student Market?

When it comes to international education, China reigns supreme. With a staggering number of Chinese students choosing to study abroad each year, the Chinese student market presents an enormous opportunity for PBSA providers.

Currently, the highest number of non-EU students in the UK comes from China. The 151,690 Chinese students in the UK make up more than a quarter of all non-EU students. This number is expected to continue growing, making the Chinese student market a force to be reckoned with.

In short: the focus on the Chinese student market is a strategic response to a convergence of factors: the size of the student population, China's economic growth, the allure of UK education, cultural preferences, and the accessible avenue of WeChat Mini Programs. This collective potential positions Chinese students as a pivotal segment that can drive growth, innovation, and success for PBSA brands and other industries seeking to tap into this dynamic market.

Digital Marketing for International Students

Digital marketing involves promoting products or services through digital channels such as search engines, social media, and websites. With the majority of international students using digital platforms for research and communication, a well-executed digital marketing strategy can significantly enhance the visibility of PBSAs.

Unlike traditional marketing methods, digital marketing allows for greater reach, personalisation, and real-time feedback. It enables PBSA providers to target specific demographics, track engagement, and optimise their marketing efforts for maximum effectiveness.

However, when it comes to digital marketing for Chinese students, it’s important to employ the right strategy. Since the usual platforms like Facebook, Instagram and even Google aren’t available in China, your strategy needs to include the platforms that are, namely WeChat.

That’s where VIVA CITY comes to the rescue. 

VIVA CITY presents an innovative solution for UK-based PBSA brands, opening the gateway to the vast Chinese market using WeChat Mini Programs. This approach revolutionises how PBSA brands can effectively market their services to Chinese students and parents. WeChat Mini Programs are tailored and efficient, resonating with the preferences of the Chinese audience, making them an ideal tool for engagement.

The platform simplifies market entry and empowers brands to effortlessly create, manage, and update Mini Programs without necessitating complex technical knowledge. VIVA CITY's role as a facilitator eliminates the barriers to entry that often deter brands from venturing into the Chinese market. Through this solution, brands gain direct access to one of the world's largest markets, maximising their potential for growth and success.

The Power of WeChat Mini Programs

WeChat Mini Programs wield a range of benefits that make them a game-changer for PBSA brands targeting the Chinese market:

1. Direct Connection: Mini Programs offer a direct channel for brands to engage with Chinese customers on a platform they are already familiar with. This streamlined interaction fosters meaningful connections and opens avenues for effective communication.

2. Building Trust: Meeting students and parents on WeChat, a platform they trust and frequently use, lays the foundation for establishing credibility and fostering positive brand experiences. This initial impression can significantly impact their decisions.

3. Flexibility and Control: WeChat Mini Programs empower brands with complete control over their content and messaging. The ease of managing and updating these programs ensures that brands can adapt to changing demands and trends promptly.

4. Cost Efficiency: The cost-saving advantages of Mini Programs cannot be understated. By eliminating the need for expensive licences, hosting, and development associated with traditional avenues, brands can optimise their resources and focus on delivering value to their customers.

Maximising Chinese Marketing Spend

VIVA CITY's platform is not just about simplifying entry; it's about maximising the impact of every marketing pound spent:

1. Sales Conversion: WeChat Mini Programs offer a direct path for sales conversion. With a seamless enquiry pathway where customers can leave their contact details after tapping an “enquire” button, brands can easily guide potential customers to become actual buyers.

2. Collecting Insights: The platform provides many data insights from Chinese marketing efforts. This information is invaluable for understanding customer behaviour preferences and optimising strategies for better results.

Tapping into the Potential of Individual International Student Markets

Recognising the untapped potential of the international student market is just the first step. It’s not enough to simply embrace the global surge in international students, but to rather zone in on specific segments and tailor your strategies to their unique needs. 

As PBSAs strive to excel in the international student market, they must recognise that it's not a one-size-fits-all endeavour. Adapting strategies for specific segments, like the Chinese student market, is the key to unlocking not only the market's potential but also the hearts and minds of these students. By embracing cultural nuances, using tailored platforms, and fostering meaningful engagement, brands can forge lasting connections and excel in an increasingly interconnected global educational landscape.

By leveraging platforms like WeChat Mini Programs, brands can engage directly with Chinese students and parents.

Get in touch with our team at VIVA CITY to find out how you can broaden your reach by tapping into the Chinese student market on WeChat. 

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