During a PIE webinar discussion about strategies to keep the 700,000 Chinese students who study abroad each year engaged during these unprecedented times, Michelle Liu, head of Research, Advisory and Partnerships, Grok Global said while by and large China itself is getting “back to normal” within the country, there remain significant knock-on effects from Covid-19.

“There’s been a remarkable level of innovation amongst institutions”

She said these include travel restrictions, cancellation of standardised language testing, delays in visa approvals along with the country’s restrictions around access to technology and strict guidelines for in-country education delivery by external providers.

“Despite these obstacles, there’s been a remarkable level of innovation and flexibility amongst institutions,” said Liu.

From adjusting policy to accept online tests such as Duolingo or having their own online tests available to take remotely, and initiatives such as Grok partnering with Concourse Global Enrollment to enable universities to send offers to students based on their profile with no application needed, Liu said it has been very interesting few months.

“Normally these things would be quite difficult however this change has been very well received,” she added.

Liu said the agility of institutions to respond to the challenges has also been impressive.

One example is the University of Auckland in New Zealand, which has set up learning centres to offer their students a ‘third option’ for study besides the traditional on-campus or online only delivery models.

“At the time of the crisis at the start of semester one, nearly 4,000 students from China were expected to enrol with us, half of those were still in China,” said the university’s director of International, Brett Berquist.

“We established individually approved study plans for approximately 1,000 students to be able to continue to study online for the semester. The other 1,000 either didn’t enrol or withdrew.”

Berquist said the university concluded the only way to operationalise the idea of an in-country offering was to build on existing strong partnerships, which led to the establishment of China learning centres at Southwest University in Chongqing and Northeast Forestry University in Harbin.

This allows students to commence or continue their study in a more traditional setting with a local learning facilitator, said Berquist, along with additional support from UoA staff flown in to deliver intensive sessions to work through a full semester in two to three weeks.

“It’s a bit of an odd hybrid space. One wouldn’t deliberately design it this way intentionally, it’s really just trying to develop a viable alternative,” he explained.

The UK’s University of Essex also utilised existing channels and partnerships to maintain support and engagement of current and prospective students in China.

“We are delivering the message of ‘We are Still Essex’ to stakeholders to promote that we are maintaining the quality of our education despite the challenges,” said Barbara Sun, Chinese Regional director for the university.

Along with reassuring the current cohort of students, UoE also warned that partner agents will have difficulty generating the same number of applications as before, which will impact on the recruitment of spring term and autumn term of 2021.

“This requires a renewed and diversified approach to recruitment,” explained Sun.

“Webinars have become a major mechanism for us to communicate with our students, and all our planned recruitment offline activities have been redesigned and moved to online.”

As with many UK universities, UoE has also established branded social media platforms in China to help with recruitment.

“Essex has benefited from our long-existing social media platforms Weibo and WeChat in our communication and messaging with our Chinese audience,” said Sun.

Liu added the adaptability, flexibility and innovation demonstrated by institutions, recruiters and agents is a promising sign for the future of student recruitment in China and echoing the sentiments of the other panellists, said establishing local partnerships is key.

“From the past few months experience there have been great online conversations with agent partners and students, but face-to-face interactions, and having someone in-country who understands the language, culture, background and concerns of students turns out to be very important,” she added.

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