Heading towards China to recruit students? Congratulations! Although you are late in joining the “gold rush”, you will find the Chinese candidates’ market more mature in relation to studies abroad than a few years ago. In a way, despite increasing competition, you will benefit from the tremendous job undertaken by the other foreign institutions in China during the last decade. Below, 10 tips for those targeting this immense pool of candidates.
1. THE FIRST IMAGE you will give, as always in business, will last long. The fact that you have just travelled half of the globe does not mean that you should expect automatic trust in return. To gain trust, be fresh and calm at the very first meeting. Try using the week-end for the flight, take a couple of days to “land” and adjust to the new environment. Meeting straight after arrival might save you a few funds, but it won’t lead you far and your hosts will understand that they are just another tick in your schedule. If you are serious about China, take the time to integrate the local rhythm; if your first trip goes well, you will probably need a regional manager to open a representation, coordinate the network of agents and the bureaucratic administration. Your image is both of a diplomat, representing a people, a country, a city, and of an educator. Your behavior suggests your Educational methodology, especially to parents when they evaluate to place the future of their kids into your hands.
2. THE AGENTS will be your first point of contact. You will need licensed agents, and seek reference from universities who have been “hunting” there before you. The financial models related to the payment of commissions to agencies require enhanced negotiation skills, as for any other industry in the world. You will also need to establish strict guidelines to filter the candidates’ quality levels, and their ability to pay your fees. Financial patterns should be designed in advance to prevent misunderstandings with both agents and students.
3. TEAM WORK with the other institutions and universities of the country, and market your city or country as much as the institution! Your programs may be very good, but the competition is fierce and good Chinese students tend to be ambitious and select top-ranked world and well-branded universities. A regional or national wing gathering your “coopetitors” within a fair will decrease your cost and your global competition difficulty level, letting you focus on explaining your uniqueness.
4. YOUR TARGET-GROUP should not necessarily be identical to those of world top-ranked universities, usually restricting their operations to a couple of Chinese cities. There are at least 20 cities with over three million-and-a half people spread within 12 main metropolitan regions. Moreover, an analysis of the Chinese provinces ranked by GDP brings some interesting target groups, slightly further from the usual known battlefields. A good way to counter the competition would be to get the marketing ready in those places, before the others do.
5. CULTURAL AWARENESS guidance, with the hiring of a consultant, specialist of modern China, is a necessary first step. For example, “yes”, “maybe” and “no” have different meaning in different cultures… Remain yourself but be open to a different kind of human communication. A Confucius book would be a recommended reading for the long-haul flight. More generally, integrate the traditional Chinese holidays into your academic calendar. For instance, the 2014 Mid-Autumn Festival taking place at the start of September 2014 means that the academic calendar should allow students to reach the campus later on. Even better, let the students spend time with their family for the Chung Yeung Festival, on October 2, 2014.
6. ADAPTED MARKETING is an imperative. You would need new brochures with adapted graphic elements. Your graphic designer will need to get familiar with local colours, Chinese design and local cultures. For instance, 2014 will be the Chinese year of the wooden horse; green, brown and yellow represent the favourable aspects of “2014” for a society largely superstitious. Even with brochures in Chinese, a simple translation won’t be enough. Prepare a special edition for a unique campaign. Relate your offer to the energy of the place. Broadcast your message and explain your home spirit, but in an adjusted local way.
7. ONLINE presence is becoming important in China. Get the Chinese flag on your webpage, as the gate to the contents that you have already prepared for your print marketing. Any site should be readable for tablets and mobile phones. Quickly, you will consider the social media Baidu, Weibo and WeChat among your best friends. You might need to get used to the idea of pay-per-click, and to have chat representatives available for any kind of questions round the CST time.
8. CULTURAL INTEGRATION becomes a major issue for Chinese candidates studying abroad, although the preservation of your local flavour should remain intact. Assistance for lodging, safety and tolerance towards foreigners are significant issues for parents of candidates, who will also be worrying about religious proselytism. A major discussion topic is the students’ academic adaptation, for they will need to familiarize with a system based on critical judgement rather than memorization. Last but not least, the link of your institution with industries is crucial; CEOs may be reluctant to integrate foreign students for practice, with the issue of “Trojan horses” looking even comic in the year of the “wooden horse”, but professional conferences, industrial fairs and professional development skills should be added to the school portfolio.
9. THE FOREIGN MINISTRY procedures related to visa administration are a sensitive matter, and the operational channel for visa issues should be oiled prior to the recruitment launch. A good talk with your local consulate should usually clarify most of the matters.
10. DEVELOP a field of studies connected to China. Although the Chinese want to see your unique “glocal” flavour, think in terms of long-term strategy to develop courses of professional development, critical judgement, business strategy or international relations customized to Chinese needs. Doing so, you prove your appreciation of a world super power, you create links with the local academics, and you bring home an expertise that shall be needed in the near future.
By visiting China and experiencing, you may discover additional issues which will seem to you equally important as those. As the Chinese say, “Reading ten thousand books is not as useful as traveling ten thousand miles”.