Market Report: T2 China

Essential student recruitment data on China’s
expanding Tier 2 cities.

Understanding China’s expanding Tier 2 cities

Like our previous market report on Vietnam and our latest Indonesia Market Report, BMI has partnered with international education marketing experts Jackfruit Marketing to produce this unique report focusing on six of China’s up and coming Tier 2 cities.

Please note, this report was produced in 2019; however, the statistics and information contained herein will serve as a useful reference for institutions participating in BMI/THE’s China International Schools Forum & Workshop, which is designed to help educators build relationships with high-quality international schools from across the country, including those from both Tier 1 and 2.

Most international institutions tend to focus recruitment efforts on China’s classic Tier 1 cities (e.g., Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen); however, its Tier 2 cities are undergoing rapid expansion with vast improvements in infrastructure, transportation, education, employment and standards of living, making them a hotbed for international student recruitment.

The Chinese government does not officially recognise the tier system, but it certainly is a handy and popular way to differentiate amongst the 600+ cities across the country. Most have been grouped into four tiers according to their GDP, population and consumer sophistication. For example, Tier 2 cities typically have a GDP between US $68-299 billion and a population of 3-15 million people. Our report concentrates on six of China’s Tier 2 cities: Hangzhou, Chengdu, Shenyang, Wuhan, Xi’an and Jinan.

The importance of cities in student recruitment

Wondering why we’re so focused on city recruitment? Here’s a few facts and predictions to help persuade you from The World’s Cities in 2018 Data Booklet produced by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division:

  • “In 2018, an estimated 55.3% of the world’s population lived in urban settlements.
  • By 2030, urban areas are projected to house 60% of people globally.
  • By 2030, one in every three people will live in cities with at least half a million inhabitants.”

Moreover, due to rising city migration, The Economist predicted that “by 2030, roughly one in five of the world’s city-dwellers will be Chinese.”

Therefore, understanding urbanisation patterns as well as how city dwellers think and what they need will be increasingly important for student recruiters who want to connect with their prospects.

And where better to start than in China’s booming Tier 2 metropolises?

China's population by province and city

As the world’s most populous nation and the number one sending market, there’s plenty of international student recruitment potential in China. With over 1.38 billion people in total, how many are in our target Tier 2 cities?

As CNN pointed out, “It’s worth noting that population data is tricky to produce in China. One reason is the sustained wave of migrant workers moving from rural to urban areas. Millions make the switch every year, often without securing the proper household registration, or ‘hukou’.” Chinese reports refer to this group as the “floating” population, or unregistered.

Population statistics will also vary widely depending on the calculations and source. For consistency, we’ve cited government data from the 2017 National Bureau of Statistics of China in our report. Readers interested in additional sources could research a specific city’s records, which are often higher. For example:

Hangzhou: Recruiting in the capital of East China's Zhejiang province

With a population of 9.8 million and GDP of approximately US $200 billion, Hangzhou is a force to be reckoned with and a fitting city to kick off BMI’s 2019 roadshow.

The Qiantang River flowing through the region was once called the Zhejiang River, after which the province was named.

In addition to the city’s economic strength and student recruitment potential, Hangzhou is also known for producing some of the best silk and tea leaves in China. It is also home to one of the best unknown Chinese cuisines and some of the most beautiful cityscapes such as the famously romantic West Lake. Hangzhou is said to be one of China’s up-and-coming tourism hotspots due to its “cultural resources, its vibrant business environment and innovative atmosphere.” The city welcomed a record high of 184 million tourists from within China and abroad in 2018, up 13% from the year prior. The boom generated total tourism revenues of 358.9 billion yuan (US $52.87 billion), a year-on-year increase of 18%.

Chengdu: Capital of Southwest China's Sichuan province

Over in the west, Chengdu has been a long-time favourite among tourists, especially owing to its reputation for protecting China’s panda population. The city received 210 million visitors in 2017 which accounted for 303.8 billion yuan (US $45 billion) in tourism revenue, contributing to approximately 34% of Sichuan province’s entire income (890 billion yuan).

The demand for language courses, undergraduate and postgraduate programmes has been steadily building in Chengdu, creating a plethora of opportunities for international student recruiters. The city rakes in an annual GDP of USD 230 billion and supports over 14 million people; more and more of whom are hungry for a taste of a top quality educational experience overseas.

Shenyang: Capital of China's Northeast Liaoning province

The industrial workhorse of our roadshow cities, Shenyang is an important heavyweight on our tour. Its population breaches 8.2 million and in 2018, Shenyang recorded a GDP of 635 billion yuan (US $93.68 billion), an increase of 5% over 2017.

Known as a key industrial centre in China, the Shenyang Economic Zone focuses on heavy industry – particularly aerospace, machinery, manufacturing equipment, automobiles and components, biomedical, modern agriculture sectors, metallurgy, coal, electricity and petroleum.

Wuhan: Capital of Central China's Hubei province

Lying on the middle reaches of the intersection between the Yangtze (Changjiang) and Han rivers, this 3,500 year old city is also referred to as the “land of thousand lakes”, including one, the Tangxun Lake, which at nearly 48 square kilometres, is the largest lake enclosed by a city in Asia.

The capital of Hubei province and known as the most significant city in central China, Wuhan boasts a GDP of over US$ 203 billion, generated by a population of over 8.5 million people.

With dozens of institutes of higher education within the city, Wuhan is a major educational hub and solid source of international students.

Wuhan is divided into two main zones (Central Town and New Town) divvying up parts of the city’s three historical districts:

  • Wuchang – the political, educational and cultural centre;
  • Hankou – the transportation, commerce and trade hub;
  • Hanyang – the home of China’s modern industry.

Xi'an: Popular capital of the Shaanxi province

A popular tourist destination thanks to its famous Terracotta Warriors and the 500,000 year-old remains of Lantian Man, if Xi’an isn’t already on your recruitment radar, it should be.

The most populous city in Northwest China with over 9 million people, Xi’an has over 30 local universities and is also noted for its technology schools which serve as a research and production base for China’s aerospace industry. The city enjoys a GDP of over US$ 113 billion and makes for a fitting spot halfway through our March 2020 tour.

Jinan: Shandong province's bubbly capital city in the East

Known as the “City of Springs” due to the 72 artesian springs that bubble up in the downtown area, Jinan’s population of over 6.4 million generate a GDP of over US$ 109 billion.

This 4,000 year old city has moved away from heavy industries and has embraced technology, making it a centre for information technology, manufacturing and bio-engineered products.

The 18 universities in the Shandong’s capital city of Jinan teach over 544,000 students and among the 200 research institutes in the city, 10 are national laboratories.