How Shifting Chinese Demographics Could Impact Your International Student Recruitment Strategy

Demographics are slowly shifting within China, creating wide-ranging ripple effects for the higher education sector across the globe.

For decades, universities in the US, UK, and Australia have depended on the influx of international students from China.

In the US, China is the biggest source of international students with more than 309,000 Chinese students choosing to study in the US.

In the wake of the US-China trade war, the recent warning from the Chinese Education Ministry to Chinese students about tightening restrictions to US foreign student visas could have disastrous consequences for US universities.

With these escalating tensions between the US and China, the UK has seen a recent surge in Chinese international students with applications rising by 30% in 2019.

Other markets have also benefited from the US political climate with Canada seeing a 20% increase and Australia seeing a 15% increase in international student enrollment.

However, a larger issue could have long-lasting, negative effects on the world’s higher education sector and its international student recruitment.

Shifting Chinese demographics and the fallout of the one-child policy

In the next 5-10 years, the demographics in China will shift significantly as the ripple effects of the one-child policy are felt across the nation.

A generation of only children will be expected to support two ageing parents and four grandparents, alongside their own growing family, in a market where the average starting salary for university graduates is barely US$8,000.

By 2030, Chinese millennial’s will make up 40% of the nation’s population and they’ll be responsible for the purchasing decisions for their families, including 100 million elderly people and an estimated 224 million children.

Complementing this future economic strain, a growing cohort of Chinese universities are offering greater affordability while rising in global university rankings.

In the 2020 QS World University Rankings, China saw impressive growth with the nation boasting 19 of the world’s top 200 research universities, increasing from 12 in 2016.

These factors all suggest that Chinese students will gravitate towards studying within China, rather than seeking the usual prestige of a Western education in markets like the US, UK, and Australia.

What impact will shifting Chinese demographics have on your university?

With the financial dependence that many Western universities have on incoming Chinese students, it’s critical that these universities take steps now to address these shifting demographics.

How is your university approaching Chinese student recruitment, and what initiatives have been implemented to tailor recruitment strategies for Chinese students?

Do your university representatives use Chinese platforms like WeChat and Weibo? Can they speak Mandarin or other Chinese dialects?

These are questions that Western universities need to ask themselves, examining their current processes and identifying areas for improvement.

To discover how your university could communicate with Chinese students and ensure long-lasting and long-term Chinese student recruitment, contact our QS Enrolment Solutions team now.


About the Author:

As the B2B Content Marketing Manager, Sarah Linney is responsible for communicating the insights, research, and market analysis that have positioned QS as a thought leader in the higher education sector. After completing a Communications-Journalism degree at Charles Sturt University in Australia, Sarah worked in radio news and B2B print publishing before joining the content marketing sector. While working at a content marketing agency, Sarah was transferred to their New York office. She then led content marketing efforts at two tech startups in New York as a Content Manager before deciding to make the move to the UK and QS. 

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