10 Things You Should Know About The Chinese International Students

Chinese students studying overseas have formed the international education terrain in the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada over the past decades. During this time, China became the most prominent international student source market in the world. Although many Chinese students put their study abroad plans on hold during the pandemic, China remains a vital growth opportunity for institutions seeking to expand their international student recruitment.


In this AdChina’s blog, the following areas will be covered: 

  • An overview of the Chinese international students 
  • 10 things you should know about the Chinese international students 
  • Case study: a UK university increased Chinese student enrolment with WeChat and Baidu marketing
  • From a recruiter at a German higher institution: using AdChina.io for effective advertising management
  • 10 tips for Chinese international students marketing approach

Chinese International Students at a Glance 

China has the second-largest population of young adults in the world. The number exceeded 100 million in 2020, according to the 2019 Revision of World Population Prospects, United Nations. And the number of Chinese students going overseas to study keeps rising. From the statistic published on Statista in 2022, more than 700,000 Chinese students left China to pursue overseas studies in 2019. What’s more, it has increased by 6.25% compared to the previous year. 

So, without exaggeration, Chinese international students are everywhere! You can easily find Chinese students overseas in any country, from megacities to regional areas.

The higher education income from Chinese students studying in Australia alone has increased over the past years. It was valued at around 12 billion Australian dollars in 2019. A similar situation applies to the US and the UK. 

Education export income from Chinese students in Australia from financial years 2014 to 2019 

Chinese international students have transformed the higher education landscape across many countries. Despite the international border restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, China remains the top country of origin for international students in many countries.

With Chinese international students flocking to the world, is your business understanding this unique cohort and ready to launch a tailored marketing campaign?

You might think you know enough about Chinese international students. But the reality is, there is a range of factors why Chinese students study overseas. And there is much more to understand why they leave their own country to spend some years pursuing a degree from a foreign institution.

10 things about Chinese international students that you must know 

Image credit: Global Times

1. The US, Australia, and the UK are the three most popular study abroad destinations

Chinese international students strongly favor the US as their study abroad option, followed by Australia and the UK, according to a UNESCO Institute of Statistics research in 2021. 

As you may expect, the fourth most popular hosting country is another English-speaking one in the Western world. But — to everyone’s surprise, Japan is beating Canada as a more preferred option for Chinese international students. South Korea, Germany, and France ranked in the top 10 destinations. 

The number of Chinese students studying in the US surpassed 100,000 for the first time in 2009/10. Since then, the population has kept expanding at American higher education institutions.

– Chinese students and parents still see the United States as their top destination for international study

Chinese students in the US view the pursuit of higher education abroad as an opportunity to receive a world-class education from a highly ranked institution. They are looking to broaden their horizons, build their credentials, progress their career, and understand Western culture and society.

As a result of the influence of American culture and the American dream — the opportunity for prosperity and success, the US has been Chinese international students’ favorite destination for a long time. 

Firstly, American higher education institutions are well known for offering high-quality education in China. Secondly, the US is a country with abundant job opportunities, which attract Chinese talents, especially STEM graduates.  From 2014 to 2019, Chinese students studying in the US have significantly increased their interest in the OPT program by 66%. A post-graduate working visa allows student visa holders to work in the US for 12 months. 

– Changes in the preferred study abroad destinations

According to multiple sources, most Chinese international students historically place the US as their preferred overseas study destination, followed by the UK and Australia. However, with an increase in anti-Asian violence in the US, the numbers are changing. According to New Oriental Education and Technology Group, the UK replaced the US as the number one destination in 2020.

2. Rankings! Rankings! Rankings!

Chinese international students (and their parents) value universities’ rankings more than anything else when it comes to overseas study. Before applying for the course, they look up in detail the rankings and reputations of the institutions: 

  • international and national rankings
  • individual course rankings 
  • rate of post-graduate employment 
  • the value of international qualifications

QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) and THE (Times Higher Education) release world university rankings every year. According to a recent QS international student survey, reputation is the most critical factor when Chinese students choose a university to study abroad. High-quality teaching, a good reputation for their chosen subject, and a well-ranked institution are what Chinese students are after. 

The US universities continue to dominate in the world rankings. Due to seeking prestige, the US is the best-loved study abroad destination by Chinese parents, closely followed by the UK and then Australia. 

The US universities continue to dominate, taking 8 out of the top 10 positions, Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021

3. ‘Gaokao (高考)’ is one of the greatest motivations to study abroad

Prospective Chinese international students (and their parents) mainly seek prestige, credentials, and quality education regarding studying abroad plans. And they aim to secure qualifications and valuable work experience from renowned overseas institutions to benefit their careers after returning to China.

China has a hyper-competitive educational system. To enter a top-tier university in the nation, a student needs to out-perform from their millions of competitors at ‘Gaokao’ (China’s National College Entrance Examination). Millions of students, and their families, devote extraordinary resources to prepare for Gaokao. Nonetheless, places for students at these prestigious domestic institutions are limited. Studying abroad is often their second-best choice for students who don’t make it into a top-tier university.

Students in Handan, eastern China, studying for the gaokao exam in May 2018. 

For a part of the Chinese international student cohort, studying abroad offers them a chance to get rid of the high-pressure exam environment and gain an overseas degree. And another aspect of the cohort is studying abroad as their second chance to turn their lives around if they fail Gaokao.

4. Welcoming environment, safety, and the study experience are vital factors to consider

In addition to the institution’s overall strengths, prospective Chinese international students also value whether the university provides a welcoming atmosphere and ensures their safety.

– An unforgettable study experience is what they are looking for

In general, an unforgettable study experience is what Chinese international students are looking for besides rankings and career options. Overseas study is about much more than what’s taught in the classroom. It’s a chance to explore interests, live in a different culture, meet new people and share experiences by joining a society or sports team. 

The holistic overseas experience is a critical factor when Chinese students narrow down their choices for studying abroad. To optimize their time overseas, they value on-campus and off-campus life experiences such as club activities, food, lifestyle, accommodation options, and work experience options. They also consider other factors such as quick visa turnaround times and substantial post-graduation employment opportunities.

– China-friendly marketing and communications strategies are critical

Be sure to make it clear to your Chinese students that your institution is supportive and sensitive to their needs. We strongly recommend that marketing and communications materials be translated into Mandarin. Your brand will be significantly benefited by establishing a locally hosted .cn site, a WeChat, and a Weibo account. These China-friendly strategies will enable your institution to engage with your Chinese students and prospective Chinese students. Here at AdChina.io, we can help you achieve these quickly and make the process seamless. 

AdChina.io has helped hundreds of brands reach the China market. To see how AdChina.io can help you get started with advertising on top channels hassle-free create a free account today.

7. Chinese international students bring economic benefits to the hosting countries

Undoubtedly, Chinese students overseas have contributed enormously to their hosting country’s higher education industry in several ways — particularly the economic volume and business opportunities.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis of the US Department of Commerce, Chinese students studying in the US contributed 14.9 billion US dollars to the US economy in 2018.

Chinese students studying in Australia contributed 12,095 million Australian dollars to the Australian economy in the Financial Year 2019. The education industry is one of the most valuable exports in Australia. 

Chinese students studying in the UK are the dominant source of international students. “One in every three international students in 2018/19 originated from China”, according to a recent study by Universities UK International (UUKi) and the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI). 

Chinese students studying in Canada have become solid support to Canada’s economy, especially filling many in-demand positions during the pandemic.

Chinese students studying in New Zealand make up almost a third of the international education market for the country. And the market value is around $1.6 billion, according to a University of Auckland TV and Radio Service program in 2020.

6. COVID-19’s impact on Chinese international students

Due to the global pandemic, Chinese students’ overseas demographics have changed. With the restrictions of international borders, many countries have reported a significant decrease in Chinese international student recruitment since 2020. 

Australia, for instance, lost 20% of its Chinese international student market for commencements and 14% for enrolments, reported in September 2021.

Meanwhile, Chinese international students have adopted new study habits during the pandemic. Online learning and attending remote classes at the university’s Chinese campus have become the new normal as more prominent universities are setting up campuses in China. 

According to recent research, in addition to the all-time popularity of studying in the US and the UK, Chinese students favor some Asian countries and regions as their post-COVID study destinations. 

As the macro-environment evolves, even the pandemic has had little impact on Chinese students’ appetite for international education. According to the New Oriental’s 2021 report, 91% of prospective Chinese students surveyed plan to continue their study abroad plans. 

7. Localized digital strategy is a must for post-COVID Chinese student recruitment

The pandemic has highlighted the power of digital marketing for Chinese student recruitment, especially targeting Gen Z and their parents. 

– Go digital!

To optimize your Chinese student recruitment campaigns, you need to leverage everything you can through digital platforms. Just remember localization and feeding the right content — such as localized social media marketing campaigns on WeChat, Weibo, QQ, Douyin, and Red. Localized SEO campaigns on Baidu, Toutiao, and Zhihu are critical too.

If you do a quick search, you will find that many institutions that are actively engaging with Chinese students have been using platforms such as WeChat. Just a few examples: New York University, SOAS University of London, University of Canberra, and the University of Toronto all have their WeChat public accounts established and maintained. And once the WeChat public account is set up and officially verified, there is much more than just communication with your Chinese students.

New York University, SOAS University of London, University of Canberra, and the University of Toronto’s WeChat public accounts

Success case study: a UK university increased Chinese student enrollment with WeChat and Baidu marketing

AdChina.io helped a UK university to successfully launch a virtual student fair and increased Chinese student enrolment through our WeChat and Baidu marketing solutions. 

“Our virtual student fair was fully booked in just one week! And we received great interest from the students. That’s the biggest success we’ve ever had with such events. AdChina.io really helped us unlock an effective way to reach our prospective students in China.” said Zelene Nicholls, International Recruitment Manager.

Experience sharing on using AdChina.io for effective advertising management from a recruiter at a German higher institution

AdChina.io also assisted a leading university in Frankfurt, Germany, to generate brand awareness in China with our platforms.

Due to language barriers and the limited knowledge about the market, the university never stepped into the China market for student recruitment. 

Through our comprehensive platform and easy-to-use functions of AdChina.io, plus our team of experts’ support, we helped the university open new doors, ran outstanding marketing campaigns, and placed advertising. As a result, they have exceeded their original targets. And they are more than satisfied with the campaign results. We updated them with the latest report analysis through the weekly meetings. And we ensured the accuracy of Chinese copywriting content on the platform.

8. Influencer marketing is critical for Chinese international student recruitment

Online engagement is critical to attract and reach prospective Chinese international students. Therefore, teaming up with an educational KOL could be a great way to attract this group to feel organic and authentic. 

Each of China’s leading social media platforms has its own KOLs, who have millions of followers and social authority. These KOLs are trusted by young people in China, who value word-of-mouth promotions more than any other demographic in the world.

– Three methods to help you start with educational influencer marketing
  • Find an influencer actually from your alumni community
  • Partner up with a KOL who’s keen to study abroad (or is currently studying abroad)
  • Do keyword research and find the most suitable influencer in your area

9. Co-branding marketing with education agents and Chinese institutions

It would be best to consider win-win cooperation to top perform your recruitment and marketing campaigns to appeal to Chinese international students. And partnering with suitable education agents and Chinese universities or high schools helps you reach prospective Chinese students with more intelligent strategies.

On the one hand, many Chinese students use agencies to help guide their journey to study abroad. By sharing overseas study expertise, these education agents play an essential role in influencing the students’ and parents’ study decisions. And by partnering up with one of these agents, you’ll be able to channel all the necessary information straight to potential students via their agents.

On the other hand, your fellow Chinese universities could be helpful for co-branding marketing strategy. And with more and more prominent universities (such as NYU, Duke, UC-Berkeley, Australian National University, Monash University) building their branch campuses in China, some partner up with Chinese institutions for joint schools or programs or share a learning space. 

Co-branding marketing helps you raise brand awareness and attract more potential Chinese international students to your organization.

10. Peer experiences matter

You should know that Chinese international students value their peer experiences. According to a New Oriental Group survey, peer and alumni referral could heavily influence one’s study choice. 

Real and honest stories for Chinese student recruitment campaigns are often more powerful than the delicate marketing brochures or branding videos you created. When prospective students read some overseas life or study experiences on WeChat moments, Red and Douyin, they could be impacted and increase their motivation to live a ‘fantastic’ life like their peers. 

For Chinese international students recruitment and marketing, always have a tailored strategy to help you best reach your target audience.

10 Tips for Chinese international students marketing approach

  1. Set up a Chinese translation on your website with valuable and culturally appropriate content if you haven’t. Better yet, establish an official site in Mandarin with a .cn domain name and host it in China.
  2. Build and grow localized content with simplified Chinese, addressing student and parent concerns.
  3. Think about what your institute can provide to Chinese international students and communicate with them through the platforms they are familiar with, such as WeChat and Weibo.   
  4. Have a solid digital strategy to target, reach and engage with your Chinese international students. Remember to choose the proper digital channels such as WeChat, Weibo, Douyin, and Red.
  5. Create engaging and localized social media campaigns. 
  6. Encourage user-generated content from alumni and the current student community.
  7. Always think digitally to harness the power of the Internet to host regular virtual marketing and recruitment events.
  8. Market your edges to the Chinese international students and prospective Chinese international students. 
  9. Target China regional markets.
  10. Mobile-friendliness always matters.

Is it too complicated for your brand to navigate the Chinese digital jungle? Don’t worry! AdChina.io makes it easy for international businesses to reach a Chinese audience — on Baidu and other popular Chinese marketing channels. Try AdChina.io for free to see exactly what we can do for your brand’s China strategy. 

Key takeaways 

Understanding Chinese international students is not easy, but we are here to help! For institutions worldwide, China will remain a critical source market for international students for many years to come. Summarized key takeaways:

  • Understand your target market Chinese international students 
  • Stay on top of the Chinese international students trends 
  • Ensure the usage of China-friendly digital campaigns and strategies to communicate with your Chinese international students
  • Leverage online courses and hybrid study offerings to create a pipeline for Chinese students to enroll in longer, degree-granting programs
  • Recruit and engage with current Chinese students and alumni who can speak to prospective students about their experience studying overseas and the benefits it has given them

AdChina is your partner of choice to market and engage with your Chinese international students 

Are you ready to plan and launch your targeted campaign for Chinese international students? A team of experts at AdChina.io can help! 

AdChina.io is the first of its kind platform that helps international businesses advertise in China easily. We’ll help you plan, launch, optimize, and scale your campaigns across each of the biggest channels in China — all with just one tool!

Visit our website and find out more. Better yet, create a free account and purchase a service from our marketplace to get started. Download your free AdChina.io demo today. 

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