Market Overview: Chinese students abroad
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), the total number of Chinese students abroad counts 790.850, whereas the Chinese Ministry of Education (MoE) only counts about half a million. David Matthieu, president and founder of Daxue Consulting, explains: “You need to distinguish between outflow students – those departing each year [MoE], and stock students – those staying more than one year.” The top destinations still are the US, followed by Australia and the UK, but research has shown, Chinese students are increasingly considering other countries such as Germany and France as well. Moreover, Chinese don’t shy away from high costs, thus providing a welcome source of income for foreign universities. As reported earlier by Daxue Consulting, Chinese international students spend over US$40 billion overseas every year, including tuition and living expenses. However, universities may need to promote themselves more to attract the Chinese target group today. Research has shown, 64 percent of Chinese students consider the quality of teaching to be the most important element when choosing a university, followed by concerns of employability (52 per cent). According to David, Chinese students go abroad for two reasons: “They are either not suitable for China’s best universities or they are wealthy and seek better education elsewhere. Therefore, mystery visits to local education agencies in China are necessary. It may help you to ensure agents are not faking certificates, to check the consistency towards the universities, or may assist the students on how to apply as well as being present at forums providing quality and professionalism.”
Another interesting fact to mention is that about 70 to 80 percent of Chinese overseas students return to China after their studies, pushing into leading cities such as Shanghai, Beijing or Hong Kong. David can imagine several reasons, therefore: Difficulties of receiving a visa, culture, closeness of their families, higher career promises in China, funding from the government attracting talents and the chance to change their ‘Hukou’ (which is the Chinese Household Registration System).
Case Description: Mystery visits to education agencies in China
Our client, one of the leading western universities, sought to investigate the performance of their local Chinese agencies. The objective of the institution was, to receive information concerning the agents’ service and professionalism level towards their university, for instance, to make sure the education agencies in China promote the studies in the respective country well. Therefore, the company approached Daxue Consulting to evaluate the agents via mystery visits.
Phases of the Market Research
As to ensure to reach the client’s goal, Daxue Consulting designed a unique mystery project and carried out over 20 mystery visits in overseas education agencies in China including 2nd and 3rd tier cities comprising the following steps:
Phase 1: Recruitment & Designs
As a starting point, our experienced research team set up the frame of the project and recruited mystery visitors, comprising students and parents in this particular case. Daxue Consulting carefully selects the participants and only employs those appropriate for the project’s needs. Moreover, our consultant team designed tailor-made training guides and questionnaires as well as it collected information material concerning each of the agency beforehand.
Phase 2: Mystery visits
Before each mystery visit, our team at Daxue Consulting provided extensive training to the mystery visitors to ensure the right interaction with the agents. Moreover, Daxue prepared and provided strict visit guidelines as well as the scenario to fulfill by each of the visitors. Hu Yuwan, a fieldwork project manager at Daxue Consulting, explains: “As every project is different, it is necessary to provide training individually. Also, each profile is treated separately and gets different questions”.
The participants had to execute the visits to the respective agents in two waves to compare and check on improvements, as well as the consistency of the services. Key points included for instance:
- Attitude and behavior (such as how best to reply to visitors, satisfy their need and optimize the answer to attract them to attend the school)
- Promotion (such as promotional material given, reference to the respective country and university)
- Know-how (such as visa regulations for international students in the respective country, fees, specificities about majors, admission policies, or application requirements)
- Admission frauds (such as fake certificates)
After the first wave of mystery visits, Daxue Consulting suggested ideas for improvement which the client implemented before our team run the second wave of visits.
Phase 3: Analysis & Recommendations
As the last step, Daxue’s team started with the final analysis and the final report. Throughout the repetitive checks of the education agencies in China, Daxue Consulting could, on the one hand, measure the level of improvement of implemented methods, and on the other hand, assess the agents’ evolution over time. Therefore, our consultants were able to finally give further recommendations and suggestions for even more enhancement concerning the client’s agents’ answers, service, and professionalism which in turn resulted in better quality and also better reputation of the university among Chinese students and therefore, increasing applications.