Scaling the new Chinese Wall means understanding the data

21 June 2022

Ian Hawkings reflects on a new tool that lists which universities are doing well in China's social media.

Last week I was alerted to a new higher education listing being launched by a company I had never heard of before. So, despite my cynicism, I scooted over to the website to have a look at what it was all about.

At first glance, I was a little nonplussed. The company in question specialises in the travel industry and, in their own words, develops ‘customized solutions to do business with China and expand beyond it, delivering the efficiency and scale companies need to compete across borders and in the world’s most valuable consumer market.’

Dig a little deeper though and you find out that during the pandemic in 2020, Education New Zealand hired them to develop a ‘virtual education week’ to help promote New Zealand higher education to Chinese education agents. Before the pandemic, New Zealand universities had been able to travel to China to take part in physical fairs, but with Shanghai and Beijing both reinforcing Covid restrictions late last week, marketing to China in a physical setting is set to remain difficult for the foreseeable future.

This poses a problem for universities reliant on a steady flow of customers from the world’s largest exporter of international students, but clearly has been identified as an opportunity for companies looking to help them engage with that market.

And the key to this new ranking is that there is another way of marketing to China in this new reality – by developing a presence on the social media channels used by students there – namely Weibo and WeChat.

This new listing is not a ‘ranking’ of MBA programmes, or specialised masters, or even sustainability. It’s a listing of how well international universities utilise Chinese social media.

WeChat accounts will be listed by total number of article views for the week, and Weibo accounts by total number of audience engagements (likes, reposts, and comments) for the week.

The initial list of universities is based on the QS World University Rankings 2022, and includes 49 Weibo accounts and 30 WeChat accounts, from 13 countries and territories outside of China.

Business development tool might be a better phrase than listing, but what initially was promoted as another ‘ranking’ from another little known outlet might well prove to be a useful tool in gauging how best to engage with the largest international student exporter in the world.


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