Education sector in China: How to seize opportunities

This (long) article will explain to education Business how to lure Chinese oversea students, and top strategies (2019) to communicate in China.

Overview of the Chinese education system

The education system in China requires compulsory schooling for 9 years, divided into 6 years of primary education from the age of 6 and then 3 years of intermediate education (equivalent to secondary school).  

After the first cycle of secondary school, students have the possibility to choose whether or not they wish to continue their studies for three more years to complete their secondary education (high school).

The Chinese education system enjoys an excellent reputation: 

According to an OECD report published in 2012, Chinese students were ranked first in PISA (test of the International Program for the Monitoring of Student Learning).

The exam aims to assess the skills of students from 65 countries aged 15 in various academic fields such as mathematics, science and reading.

As a result, many Western governments would like to be able to achieve the same results as the Chinese education system with the same discipline.

Challenging the Chinese education system

Despite the fact that the government supports the development of education, the Chinese public system is now the scene of strong contradictions.

With social development and China’s openness to the world, more and more parents are choosing to provide their children with an international education through English language learning and study abroad. This is why many private schools have been established in China in recent years.

The four major problems of the Chinese education system

1. Long hours of lessons and a lot of content

Chinese students spend much more time in school than their Western classmates. The number of days spent in school is much higher and the number of holidays much shorter. However, school days in China have recently lengthened!

On average, Chinese students have four weeks of holidays in winter and seven in summer (including weekends and public holidays) compared to 8 weeks during the year and 9 in summer for their French classmates (for whom weekends, and public holidays are not included). 

The school starts at 7:30 am and ends at 4:00 pm with a 1,5 hour of break for lunch and a nap, a total of 7:30 hours against 6 hours for French students which have three break times.

After the end of their school day, they must take private lessons from their families. These courses are not mandatory but strongly recommended if they do not want to fall behind their other classmates.

These additional courses are necessary because a normal school day is not enough to allow teachers to cover the entire curriculum of the Ministry of Education. After these extra classes, the students go home and start their homework.

Most students get up at 6am and go to bed at 10pm or 11pm, their day is mainly devoted to learning and homework. 

In China, children do not have time for other activities such as sports, leisure or family time, social activities… This leads to poor communication and problem-solving skills in real life. 

Most Chinese students are good in theory. In terms of application and experimentation, they cannot compete with Western students.

In addition, the question of equal opportunities arises. With such a demanding education system, many cannot afford to integrate and pay for additional courses. As a result, many of them drop out after the first 9 mandatory years.

2. The obsession of “results

The Chinese people give obsessive importance to achieving the objectives and the results. 

This goes hand in hand with the concept of “keeping face”. This Chinese concept is associated with reputation, prestige and social status. It affects education, wealth and social position. 

Students must be good students and study for the good of their country, their family and to make their parents proud.

At school, excellent students are rewarded with prizes and those with difficulties are left out. 

Students study with the aim of being the best in the ranking. The philosophy of education in China is that you have to be good everywhere and in everything. Students study all subjects (history, geography, biology, mathematics) from an early age. 

The competition for a good ranking promotes rapid memorization but not real learning. They generally do not understand the purpose of what they are learning, which leads to disinterest. For the most part, Chinese students lack clear objectives and development.

Although Chinese students analyze literature, they are rarely expected to write their own essays. It is preferable that they memorize the text rather than write one. 

Students are often reluctant to ask questions because it may demonstrate a lack of knowledge. They must “keep face”. 

4. The university entrance exam, a dreaded moment for students and their families 

Every year, nearly 9.15 million Chinese high school students prepare for the university entrance exam. The “GaoKao”or the National Higher Education Entry Examination in China. This is one of the most dreaded moments for all students and their families. 

This three-day exam will determine which university they can attend, which will influence their future professional careers and social position.

This exam is increasingly subject to criticism. On the one hand, it puts a lot of pressure on entire families and on the other hand, it does not promote the personal development and fulfilment of students who are obliged to comply with the system if they want to have the hope of entering one of the country’s universities. 

Among all the participants, only half will be allowed to enter university. 

New international schools are emerging in China

Today, many international schools are opening their doors in China, which shows the government’s desire to adopt a more flexible system and more Western methods.

To successfully enter the Chinese market, international schools must set up a system able to complement Chinese qualifications with Western values. 

The growth of the middle class has led to a sharp increase in the demand for English courses. 

The increase in wealth, the demand for skilled labour and the obsession with reputation play an important role in promoting the international schools in China.

Attracting Chinese students studying abroad

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, China had more than 700,000 students worldwide in 2014, nearly four times more than any other country.

Many Chinese think that studying abroad is much better than studying in their home country. This is not untrue, since having studied abroad will give them access to better jobs in China. As a result, the number of Chinese students seeking higher education abroad is constantly increasing.

The preferred destinations are English-speaking countries such as the USA, Australia, England, Canada and New Zealand. However, there has been a significant increase in countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Japan and South Korea. 

There are many opportunities for foreign schools to seize. On the other hand, attracting Chinese students is becoming more and more competitive. 

Offer diplomas in their country of origin

In recent years, the international education sector has grown rapidly in China. This is a huge market that will continue to grow as students and parents will prefer international schools and English language learning over local schools.

Equally important, China has a constantly increasing number of expatriates and foreign residents. The latter represent another market to target for international schools in the country.

It is important that schools take into account cultural differences within the country itself and build relationships with local government agencies and regional cultural representatives.

Every education Businesses are competing for attracting Chinese oversea Students. In Italy, they bet on fashion & Luxury education, IN french on Bakeries, in Germany Engineering

List of Solutions to penetrate the Chinese education market

Digital marketing, or the promotion of your activity on the web, is the best way to attract new students to China. Why? 

With more than 800 million Internet users, China has recently become the most connected country in the world. Of this large share of users, 788 million have had access to the Internet from their smartphones, making China the country that generates the most sales of applications in the world. 

That’s why mobile applications are becoming the main interface that transforms the way people consume and drives companies to change and adapt their sales techniques. 

But it should be noted that in China all the social networks that we use to promote our new products or services, are blocked (Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp). The Internet system is closed and the social networks are totally different.

This is why it is necessary for international schools wishing to establish themselves on the Chinese market to adapt to the digital communication tools used in China and create official accounts on these main platforms.

1. SEO campaign on BAIDU

Having a Chinese version of your site is the first step in attracting Chinese students. It goes without saying that having content written in Mandarin is necessary, in addition to adapting to your target group, which has little or no command of English. This represents a form of respect, interest and dedication for your clients. 

Once your website is available in Mandarin, you must integrate it on BAIDU. 


BAIDU is the Chinese search engine and also the first most visited site in China. It offers an index of more than 740 million web pages, 80 million images and 10 million multimedia files.

Most often, Chinese students will look for the best schools and information on BAIDU. This is why it is crucial that international schools be among the first research results. 

Thanks to referencing campaigns on BAIDU this is possible. SEO is the ultimate way to increase your position on a search engine. 

A good SEO is one of the best ways for institutions to stand out on the market and be visible to Chinese students.

2. WeChat 

WeChat is the main social network used in China. More than 700 million users connect to the application every day and spend an average of 70 minutes a day on. 

WeChat is very famous because the application provides access to more than just a messaging service, such as games, online shopping and financial services.

See all information about WeChat Marketing HERE

As you can see, Chinese students and parents spend a lot of time on WeChat. This is why schools wishing to establish themselves on the Chinese market must be proactive on this platform. 

3. Sina Weibo

Sina Weibo is one of the most used platforms in China. It is a mix between Twitter and Facebook. Sina Weibo is often referred to as “the Chinese Twitter”. 

Sina weibo allows you to create and engage communities, Internet users use the application to get information on recent news, follow current topics or debates while contributing to their own web page.

Sina Weibo users are relatively young. Of the 250 million active users, 70% are under 30 years of age. They often come from the country’s major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou. 

Chinese students will probably go to Sina Weibo to look for new institutions. Indeed, they are the ones who play the most decisive role in the final choice of their university. It is important for higher education institutions to have a presence on this platform and that is why many schools already have an activity on it. 

More information about Weibo Marketing here

3. QQ Networks

Tencent’s media conglomerate is one of the largest social networks in the world with more than a billion active monthly users. 

QQ is the most widely used instant messaging system in China (far ahead of Skype, WhatsApp or Messenger, all blocked in the country). QQ provides users with discussion forums, but also music streams, emails, games and applications to download. Since its inception in 1999, QQ has become a cultural phenomenon that is now an integral part of Chinese daily life.  

By 2014, there were 853 million active accounts on the platform, making Tencent QQ the second largest virtual community in the world behind Facebook. The number of users connected simultaneously has already exceeded 100 million.

How is this interesting for schools that want to attract more Chinese students? 

Schools could send their promotional offers and publish targeted content for Chinese students, such as international schools do in the West, by email or SMS. 

These institutions can also use Qzone to share photos and videos. The platform is also very popular for daily blog posts, as millions of users already do. 

After translating their content into Chinese, schools could share it on the platform. Another idea could be to invite Chinese students to contribute to the content by sharing their study experiences, which would attract even more prospects. 

More about about PR options in China

Seize these opportunities 

International schools must take advantage of their current superiority in the coming years to establish themselves in the minds of Chinese consumers. Active communication with parents and students through digital marketing and social media can help international schools achieve their goal.

Who are we? 

GMA is a China-based digital performance agency that helps foreign Businesses to lure Chinese Market by offering you strategies to your needs and targets, at every scale of budget.   

Our local team (70 people in 2019) is up to date on all the latest marketing trends in China and uses all the most effective digital tools to promote your company in China.


  • I got interested a few years ago about the “Tiger mom” interest in the news and later came the truth beyond tiger moms. Striving for excellence and getting better by learning, this made and still makes a great opportunity for foreign schools in the Chinese market. Chinese parents want the best for their child: foreign schools are seen as clever schools that not everybody can go to, I guess it’s an easy catch for the concerned schools.

  • Education is a current topic and, more than ever, lucrative with this outbreak. It will be a good opportunity for foreign schools when the outbreak will end.

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