China’s outbound student numbers continue to grow. In 2017, over 600,000 Chinese students studied abroad, an 11.7% increase on 2016 figures. China’s English language teaching market too has been growing consistently since 2011 and is now the second biggest ELT market globally. It is also the top source of incoming students for the UK market. Su Si is the British Council’s Education Services Manager in China. Here are her top tips for doing business with China:
Do your research!
China is a very complicated market. It is a big country and each part of China has different needs and preferences. For example, students from North China are much more likely to attend winter programmes over the Chinese New Year holidays compared to those from the South. If you want to promote a product to particular group of people, research which province is most suitable.
Understand the diversity among Chinese agents
There are many different types of agents entering the market. Some are new to the market and may have many students but they may not have a fully developed marketing strategy. More experienced agents will know immediately what their clients need, but they may be more demanding when planning marketing activities for their target audience and may also seek higher commissions.
Have costing and other information available in Chinese
The first question is always ‘What’s the cost?’, so have a response ready. Chinese language materials covering other aspects are very helpful too. If brochures are only available in English, keep them short and simple, focusing on only the highlights. Agents won’t have time to find the key selling points in a 30-page English-language brochure.
Focus on your unique selling points
Many educators tell me it can take up to three years to build an effective relationship with an agent. Remember that agents represent their clients. If you can supply what their clients want, they will help you recruit students.
Using a memorable way to market your institution, with clear selling points, will help agents remember you more easily. If you’re doing a fam trip, focus on your institution’s two most memorable aspects. Ideally, try to integrate your institution’s USP with its surroundings, that can work well.
Understand the junior ELT Chinese market
Agents don’t just want a language programme. They want an exciting cultural experience to go with it. The British Council produced a research report last year and found that the cultural experience is very important to parents. They play an important role in their children’s decisions about overseas study.
The cultural experience could be a taster of a UK independent school or boarding school, or perhaps participating in sports or learning a new art form. Such opportunities are particularly important for students returning for a second year: if they enjoy a new, fresh experience, they are much more likely to choose the UK again in the future.
How much awareness is there of different UK regions among Chinese parents and agents?
In a mature market like Shanghai, parents and agents are more aware of the UK’s regional differences. The majority of people have heard about Cambridge, London, Oxford and Edinburgh, and those are the programmes they are most interested in. At the British Council we try to encourage parents and agents to consider other regions too.
Do Chinese agents prefer residential or homestay accommodation?
Homestay accommodation was very popular until recent years, but preferences are becoming more diverse. Providing quality assurance for homestay accommodation is challenging, and this is one of the main reasons why the market is changing.
If you had one piece of advice for a UK educator who wanted to improve their reach in China, what would it be?
Remember to re-connect with agents. Follow-up visits, and regular email or phone updates after the initial meeting are very important to establish a strong working relationship.
The British Council works on the ground across China monitoring market trends and provides market advice to institutions in the UK and China. For any enquiries, please contact Su.Si@britishcouncil.org.cn