Illustration of city skyline in China

4 Communication Nuances to Better Engage Prospective Students from China

In the 2015/2016 academic year, the UK received 91,215 students from China. For the same period, the UK received 17,405 students from Malaysia, maintaining China’s position as the number one sending market by miles.

*Top non-EU sending countries. Source: HESA First Statistical Release 242 (2015-16) Table 9 via UKCISA

As significant a recruitment market as China is, even small improvements with your engagement, and consequently conversion, of prospective students from China can make a meaningful impact on your overall enrolment. Following up on interest generated via partner programmes, TNE, agents or direct channels, we’ve identified some unique communication qualities to engage prospective students from China.

Mandarin proficiency is important, but first introduce yourself in English

Chinese students can be very sceptical of phone calls from unrecognised phone numbers – I’m sure most of us can relate.

One of our UQ Enrolment Advisers, who is a native Mandarin speaker, has found that it works best to establish trust by first introducing the University she supports in English. She said even when the students can hear that she is Chinese, speaking Mandarin from the start is not well-received.

But, she noted, once trust is established she generally finds it best to switch to Mandarin. Often, Mandarin speakers are uncomfortable using English over the phone and will race to end conversations that are in English. In Mandarin, students tend to be happier to chat and you’ll find yourself having long conversations full of discerning questions around programme content and career opportunities.

There are exceptions to this rule of thumb, so it is best to get a sense for how the conversation is going to assess if it’s better to continue with English or make a move to Mandarin. Emma Gutteridge, Senior International Officer responsible for the Asia Pacific region at London South Bank University, finds that keeping with English in conversations can be a really exciting experience for some students.

‘During a phone-a-thon campaign, I called a student from China who told me that I was the first person she had ever talked to from the UK. She was so excited to talk to the University and with someone who was in the UK; continuing the conversation in English really helped build that enthusiasm and so it was a better experience for the student to continue conversing in English than switching to Mandarin on this occasion.’

Exhibit authority 

Chinese students place a lot of value on hierarchy. Establishing authority in your area of responsibility and maintaining a more formal tone in your communications will make you a more valued resource from your University.

A UQ Enrolment Adviser who manages the phone outreach with Chinese applicants and offer holders on behalf of one of our UK clients said that she is often asked for more detail about her role and seniority within the University. She described that if you fail to represent yourself with authority, students will cut the conversation short.

Emma has had similar experiences, also mentioning that when it comes to questions about their chosen course, Chinese students would much prefer to speak directly with faculty as the experts in that particular academic field.

Appeal to the ROI of studying at your University 

Chinese students and their parents highly value education and are prepared to invest in overseas higher education. When considering universities, Chinese students will scrutinise their options to make sure they’re investing in the institutions most likely to help them build a bright future…in other words, which institutions will set them up for a successful career. Ranking and brand reputation will shape their opinions the most.

‘They will add up all the pros – accreditations, student success record, location. Your institution may tick all the boxes but ranking will trump everything.’, says Emma.

This is reflected in the offer decision reasons we track from Chinese students. University ranking and course ranking are the top decision reasons we hear from this market.

While ranking is hugely influential, Emma believes that universities have an opportunity to mitigate the power of rankings via effective branding campaigns. ‘Name recognition is important. If the institution is well-known amongst friends, family and peers, students will assume it’s a good university.’

Explain conditional offers

On behalf of our partner universities, we reach out to offer holders right away to congratulate students and make sure they understand their conditions and deadlines. What we’ve found with direct applicants from China is some confusion over requirements to accept their offer given the different admissions approach the UK takes from China.

In China, students are required to have all their scores before they can accept an offer to study with a Chinese higher education institution. There is no such thing as a conditional offer. So, we find that students are often uncomfortable accepting their offer while they’re still waiting for their results.

‘Chinese students will often be the earliest applicants but the last to commit. They don’t want to make any decisions until they know all of their scores and they will then usually accept the offer from the highest ranked HEI.’, explains Emma.

Given the longer decision pipelines in this market, it’s especially important to proactively contact Chinese offer holders to build a stronger relationship with your university so that you are top of mind when they are ready to make a decision.


If you have anything to add to this list based on your experiences, we’d love to hear it. Share your thoughts with us.