Chinese parents are the most dedicated and financially committed to providing children with the best higher-level education. In 71% of cases, Chinese parents play a key role in deciding which overseas university their children attend[i], and 43% have specific education savings plans compared to 5 per cent in the UK[ii].
Not only do parents help steer selection of academic institution, they are frequently the driver of overseas study. This comes from the desire that children succeed in establishing international careers, or learn from education and work experience abroad in order to do better domestically.
‘Making my child a future international talent’ is now a common mantra with C level parents. They have plans for children to experience overseas education, and are prepared to pay for a western lifestyle and culture that they hope will bring formative influence and success.
For universities to respond to the influence of parents it is necessary to go beyond highlighting academic performance and course content as selling points. It is also important to communicate directly to parents rather than rely on messaging being channeled through marketing aimed at student candidates.
Focus on highlighting ranking performance alone is a flawed approach to selling to Chinese parents. Such simplicity ignores the fact that many years will be spent in preparation of children studying abroad. According to a recent survey, Chinese parents are shifting from ‘ranking-driven’ to a more matured and comprehensive decision-making process[iii].
Selection criteria include whole life experience, personal development, cultural exposure, future employability, lifetime benefits, and welfare and safety. For high net worth Chinese families, selection also includes global asset allocation, property and other investment, plus consideration of immigration.
Universities can respond to information needs by promoting culture, history, property and commercial opportunities within their geographic footprint.
Many parents perceive university location as a foothold for buying property, a holiday destination, and even a point of immigration. University marketing departments may want to consider themselves part tourist board and part business enterprise promoters in order to adopt the appropriate mindset.
Another selling point is the travel opportunities location offers. Most students are keen to travel and explore, and according to a recent survey by New Oriental Vision Overseas, the vast majority of parents encourage their children to travel the world during term time. If a university has relatively good international travel connections, it should be pushed as a benefit.
Raising welfare and safety as subjects may be thought to unnecessarily put the spotlight on negative subjects, but they are of growing concern to families of Chinese students. A recent white paper published by JJL Overseas Education highlighted the fact that Chinese parents worry about the physical and mental health of children studying abroad, including the threat of terrorism, drug abuse, and depression.
Universities can help allay wellbeing concerns by emphasising welfare programmes and the remote possibility of being involved in terrorist incidents and crime. Obviously, a subtle approach needs to be taken, but it is much better to address these concerns and put them into context rather than ignore them and let media headlines, rumour and imagination paint the picture.
Being able to communicate with Chinese parents is relatively straightforward through digital channels. Today’s Chinese parents are digitally socialized with one in five of Chinese netizens now aged between 50 and 60 years of age – the number has even increased by 1% in the last six months.
The most effective approach to reach parents is via the news portal sites they frequently visit. Using the right messages about children’s futures and highlighting university USPs through targeted online display advertising consistently produces successful results. A high click-through rate and low-cost acquisition generates better returns on investment than targeting students themselves. It is a relatively easy and effective way to engage such an important audience, yet almost no universities in the UK utilise this opportunity.
Social media too can be used to target parents, but the key thing is to recognise the benefit of speaking with them – those that have been planning university education for their children for many years, will finance it, and importantly play a key part in deciding where that finance will go.