How Can Foreign Universities Attract Chinese Students Amidst Travel Lockdowns

China is the world’s largest source of international students, with over half a million academics studying abroad. With the closure of traditional education, attendance in universities by Chinese students dropped sharply, even as low as a 15% drop in US universities alone. This has caused drops in revenue and unsustainable operations for the universities.

Therefore, attracting Chinese students remains important for these foreign universities. The total number of Chinese students studying abroad in 2016 was 544,000, an increase of 3.97% year on year.

The pandemic has thrown a wrench in universities admitting Chinese students. Unfortunately, most fail due to a misunderstanding of cultural adaptation or simply not optimising their marketing enough for Chinese students.

The question remains of how foreign universities can attract more Chinese students amidst the travel lockdowns and restrictions during the pandemic. In this article, we highlight ways universities can continue catering to and attracting Chinese students abroad.

1. Establish Digital Platforms for Enrollment Campaigns and Publish Informative Content

Any university looking to attract Chinese students needs to establish an online presence on social media and other digital platforms in China. Enrollment campaigns on Chinese social media are far more effective than any other mechanism for Chinese consumers.

Chinese social media is a top-tier tool when it comes to advertising a service or a product, and universities looking to increase their attendance is no exception. The online education market has been rising rapidly in recent years, and due to the pandemic’s impact, the online education user rate was estimated to reach at least 36%.

Since China has no western social media sites like Facebook or Twitter that foreign universities typically have, opening an official Chinese social media account and on other platforms will go a long way in making a university visible to Chinese students.

A way to do this is to establish a WeChat public account, as it is the essential platform for getting the attention of Chinese students with its over 1.2 billion users for a university’s enrollment drives. Aside from a WeChat or Weibo account, a good practice is also to create a Chinese website for the university itself and ensure that you have trusted, high-ranking sites linked to your website.

For example, HKU Med ran a Weibo ad campaign that saw a 60% increase in followers on their Weibo account. More than that, HKU Med saw 1.11 million actual impressions with their campaign. 

This just shows how receptive Chinese consumers are to Chinese social media platforms and how a university can properly leverage its accounts to gather more followers and, in turn, attract students. 

Short video platforms like Douyin or Kuaishou are very helpful in reaching a university’s target market directly. Over 70% of Chinese consumers will watch, share, and record a short video about their daily lives. These short-form videos are good for watching during breaks, or between classes, so more people are exposed to a brand on these platforms.

Chinese students

Source: douyin.com

Universities can use these platforms to start their enrollment or marketing campaigns, such as the case of Central Queensland University and Arizona State University, where they used Douyin for admissions promotions by showing their campus life.

Listing your university on Chinese sites and popular forums like Zhihu will get your university’s name in front of prospective Chinese students before they even have to come to you.

An account in Zhihu is also crucial since Chinese consumers like to do background digging about a subject they are interested in. By building the university’s reputation and status and delivering fresh content, universities will appear more credible to Chinese students and are much more likely to see increased admissions numbers.

Source: zhihu.com

It is also crucial to optimise the official university website for Mandarin keyword searches. Promote discussions on specific topics about university choices and courses abroad. This approach increases positive interactions with Chinese users and has proven to be 5x more effective in creating leads than other methods.

2. Engagement Campaign and Mini-game

Foreign universities that are looking to market and attract potential Chinese students often encounter a culture clash which makes sense since Chinese consumers have different tastes than the rest of the world.

WeChat’s huge user base is a great way for a university to stay in touch with the three main audiences using poll campaigns: prospective students, current students, and alumni. As a social media platform, universities can also use it to create positive PR, explore creativity, and show more authenticity or personality, which the Chinese appreciate.

Massey University ran a poll campaign on the university’s WeChat account. The poll campaign encouraged their followers to vote for their favourite graduation photo. They also took it one step further.

The winning photos revealed stories of the graduates featured and introduced themselves to Chinese students in a bid to become more personable and also act as a testimonial of sorts for the university.

Source: mp.weixin.qq.com 

It garnered 5000+ views, five times higher than its regular articles and boosted its image with online followers. Using targeted online messaging will not only make it more efficient for a university to connect with potential students, but they could also drum up positive interactions by doing so.

Aside from poll campaigns, other interactive methods could also be an attention-grabber for Chinese consumers. One of the most effective ways for it is to use minigames. WeChat’s minigames (Mini Program) are one of the highest-converting paid advertisements that a university could employ.

These minigames reach a wider audience base compared to just game apps or other social accounts. It’s simple, diverse, and the average Chinese consumer likes to use it, so having minigames will definitely increase a university’s visibility.

Content should be published and optimised in a way that singles out the target market in a good way. Hence, universities definitely need an excellent digital content strategy to implement using poll campaigns for Chinese students.

Universities must remember that Chinese consumers are more likely to organically follow accounts that publish relevant content to them (for universities, academic and way-of-life questions are generally asked). So, poll campaigns and email marketing makes it easier to know what the people want and make a university relevant to its target audience.

3. Use Chinese alumni as brand ambassadors

Chinese consumers love a good testimonial, and they patronise more products when recommended via word-of-mouth. This is also the same for universities, and the best way to do that is to utilise your Chinese alumni as your brand ambassadors in China.

They can act as brand ambassadors and share their learning experiences to attract potential students. While universities tend to focus their marketing strategies on attracting prospective students, Chinese alumni are already a powerful tool that universities have.

Chinese alumni can influence prospective students and parents and leave a positive opinion on their alma mater, enhancing its image. More to the fact, these Chinese alumni can be considered as KOLs in this instance, and the Chinese love their KOLs.

ICE College of Cambridge University has utilised this technique. ICE College launched a media buying campaign in WeChat Moment Ads from Jan 25-Feb 8 for their ICE course and used alumni (KOLs) to promote it with their peers. In just 4 months after launching the paid advertising campaign, ICE college gained 2,771 new followers and 1.85 million organic impressions.

The Education International Cooperation Group, whose members have studied in foreign universities, recommended several universities in Canada. The article led to increased numbers for these universities and improved their visibility by generating a lot of discussions.

 Source: weibo.com

Universities can definitely use their alumni as a KOL for their Chinese target audience. They can ask for testimonials and publish them on their Chinese social media accounts. Alumni can also serve as spokespersons in recruitment drives, which establishes more trust with the consumers as they can relate to Chinese alumni better.

4. Use a trusted Chinese digital marketing agency to advertise

Lastly, a university’s campaign in China will hardly be effective without a good content strategy. The Chinese are a notoriously hard industry and demographic for marketers, but once a brand has the right tools (or people) to guide them, it’s easier.

Having a trusted Chinese digital marketing agency will smooth many things out for you, from account creation to monitoring metrics or even planning out exact campaigns that appeal to the Chinese.

Universities could easily blow thousands of dollars for a big campaign but have it fail because it did not satisfy the conditions of Chinese marketing. To avoid this marketing faux pas, a trusted Chinese digital marketing agency is a must.

By adopting an effective strategy, HKU Med’s campaign on Weibo and WeChat became a hugely successful one, with more than 73% increased traffic compared to the generous estimate and WeChat page views doubling in the count.

Source: weibo.com

TL;DR, paid advertising is a key component to any successful campaign in China, and having someone to guide your university through it will see definite results.


With China as the largest single country of origin for international students worldwide, foreign universities cannot afford to lose this demographic.

Due to the natural restrictions that the pandemic brought, Chinese student attendance in foreign universities has dropped dramatically, but universities can attract more Chinese students with good strategy.

Marketing to the Chinese is not the same as marketing to western or other global consumers, so creating a good Chinese marketing strategy is crucial. There are several ways for universities to present themselves to Chinese students and attract them. 

First, establish digital platforms to increase visibility and interact with them. Next, engage consumers with interactive methods like polls or minigames. Additionally, use your Chinese alumni as KOLs and brand ambassadors for your university. Lastly, use paid advertising with a good digital marketing agency. 

Alarice is a trusted Chinese digital marketing agency with clients from HKU Medicine to ICE College of Cambridge University. We create constructive campaigns that see real and effective conversions for your university and help establish it for Chinese consumers.

Plan your next campaign and content management with Alarice and attract more students despite restrictions. At Alarice, we specialise in Chinese digital marketing, trend analysis, and market insights to ensure that your education organisation gets the pulse of Chinese international students.

We make your campaigns and content more engaging and effective for the Chinese consumer base. At Alarice, we map it out for you. Contact us here, or drop us a message.

We use cookies to personalise content and ads, to provide social media features and to analyse our traffic. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. View more
Cookies settings
Privacy & Cookie policy
Privacy & Cookies policy
Cookie name Active
Save settings
Cookies settings