Understanding payment expectations of Chinese students

Sponsored: International students comprise a significant part of universities' income, but payments can be laboured and painful for all concerned

WPM Education, in collaboration with a number of universities, spoke to the students themselves to uncover the problems.

International Students play a key role in ensuring the future sustainability of UK universities, and whilst the number of international students coming to the UK to study is declining overall, the number of Chinese students is seeing annual increases. Chinese students now make up 31% of all non-EU students, translating into approximately £1.34bn in tuition fees.

By being aware of Chinese students’ payment experiences and expectations, you can ensure you’re meeting their payment needs and providing a good payment experience, which, if acted upon, will also improve a key source of inefficiency in the back office.

The Chinese banking system and the recent explosion of other payment options such as AliPay and WeChat Pay, makes for an ecosystem that is unfamiliar to many outside of China. This conversely means that our UK banking system, dominated by debit cards, direct debits and standing orders, is also unfamiliar territory for many Chinese students.

First year – choices, motivations and experiences

If not clearly guided by UK universities, Chinese students are seeking payment advice from lots of different sources, including Chinese banks, friends and relatives, agents, websites and blogs. This can result in universities having to accept a spread of payment methods for first-year tuition fees, including bank transfer, cheque, cash or face-to-face payments, normally discouraged because of efficiency implications or the potential to provide a poor payment experience to the student.

Only 5% of Chinese students paid their first-year tuition fees online through the university portal – when asked how they would like to pay, almost all universally said online. These students also come from a society that now has the largest mobile payments market in the world. So, what’s going on?

A combination of three key things: 

No standard approach when communicating to international students how to pay their tuition fees. This results in students paying by methods others recommend, which is rarely online. 

Lack of awareness about paying online and/or universities have adopted payment processes that discourage online payment. Finance needs to take ownership and raise awareness of how they want students to pay at the earliest possible opportunity. Aligning payment with face-to-face registration, offering free gifts at registration and having dedicated ‘international payment days’, may all unintentionally be encouraging students to pay face-to-face. 

 – Usability issues and barriers in the university’s website which results in a loss of confidence with the system. Complicated terminology and text-heavy content can confuse students who speak English as a second language. Payment issues as a result of using non-UK debit/credit cards can further erode confidence and create frustration.

“Chinese students now make up 31% of all non-EU students, translating into approximately £1.34bn in tuition fees.” 

Subsequent years – what changes and why?

For Chinese students that stay in the UK for subsequent years of study, the payment picture changes considerably. The majority of Chinese students use UK debit cards as their main means of payment whilst living in the UK, but there are some interesting cultural variances as to how international students transfer money into the UK once they have a UK bank account.

Chinese students and their parents were acutely aware of seasonal patterns in exchange rates, supported by further research showing clear short-term changes in currency value around registration time. Chinese families overcome this by buying sterling early when exchange rates are good and holding it in their Chinese online accounts until it is needed.

Universities that are providing a short payment window for tuition fees around registration time are further discouraging online payment, as Chinese students recognise that using their Chinese credit card during that short window would not be giving them good value for money.

International Students are indispensable for world-class universities and improving the payment experience for Chinese students not only helps to improve their overall student experience and ensures numbers coming to the UK continue to rise, but is also an opportunity to improve back-office inefficiencies.

For more, visit www.wpmeducation.com.