Chinese are attracted to branded British universities

December 4, 2012 Comments Off

Bentley, Burberry and Cambridge University.

What we perceive to be the best of British products for cars and clothes are the shiny labels – those that scream: “I am the best”.

Yet, carrying a Cambridge University certificate into a Fortune 500 company interview in Beijing, screams that out loud, too, for Chinese nationals, doesn’t it?

Chinese account for 22.6 percent of the total non-EU international population in Britain, according to statistics provided by the Higher Education Statistics Agency in Britain for the year 2010-11. Therefore, this is an imperative market to uphold for the Brits, who rely heavily on international funding to bolster their universities.

“They (Chinese) like brand names. The more unobtainable it is, the better,” says Jazreel Goh, marketing director of the British Council, the culture and education section of the British embassy. “They want to be seen.”

Emma Leech, marketing director of Nottingham University, winner of the 2011 International Brand Master award, says: “I think we are one of the strongest brands in China because predominantly we’ve been established for a while and we are fairly well networked in China.”

When questioned about whether such issues as the post-study work visa cancelation in April this year and higher tuition fees have led to a decrease in application numbers, Leech says: “No, just the opposite. Our numbers have actually gone up.”

Indeed, Nottingham is one of several exemplary universities as it was the first foreign university to enter China and create a satellite campus in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, in 2004.

It was initially the cooperative board of governors at the University of Nottingham that provided the British member of the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading British universities, with the opportunity to enter China, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Nottingham Chris Rudd says.

Vice-Chancellor David Greenaway explains that Nottingham University primarily got in via the credentials of their chancellor Yang Fujia, the previous chancellor of Fudan University, which has been rated among the top three universities in China.

“Institutions which have been most hit by application numbers are the institutions without a strong brand,” Leech says.

Goh highlights other universities, such as Warwick, LSE, Manchester and Imperial, as successful brands in China.

“It is linked to the fact they have strong networks, marketing, and agents to recruit here,” she says.

Yet another issue about British universities is that they don’t all have a strategy, Goh explains.

“You have to look at the (brand) success based on whether the university has a strategy and whether they are successful in their strategy.”

Giana Eckhardt, an expert in global marketing and consumer behavior in China from Suffolk University in the United States, explains that American pop culture is an influential factor of the American university brand image in China, when one compares it with the British one.

Yang Wei, director of the international development section of education consultancy China Education Service Center, says the TV series Beijinger in New York was an important medium in branding New York City.

The story displayed the lives of Wang Qiming and his wife Guo Yan, who worked hard toward their American dream, showing their immigration, employment, their daughter and the eventual success and tragedy of their story.

Chinese students have longed to live the same dream, Yang says.

Equally, Shi Anbin, associate dean and professor of the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University, highlighted that former Cambridge University student Xu Zhimo’s poem Farewell to Cambridge, which is recited by all high school students in China, was influential in promoting the leading British university in China.

Silently I go,
As silently I came.
Silently I wave my hand
And bid farewell to the west clouds.
The golden willows on the river bank
Are brides beneath the setting sun;
Their flaming shadows in the wave’s light
Move softly on my heart.
(Excerpt from Xu Zhimo’s Farewell To Cambridge)

Which would you prefer to buy next year – a British car, bag or education? The choice is yours. But knowing more about the brand through mediums, such as Xu’s poem, might sway you to one side or another. (China Daily)

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