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French Universities Are Silent On Digital Marketing Competition

Nowadays, technology becomes a driving force of development. With the advent of new technology, marketing strategy is experiencing a revolution. Digital marketing strategy is the most efficient tool for delivering brand value, especially during the pandemic, all industries are rushing to run their business on social media. People from all walks of life are beginning to notice social media’s power and started justifying their business focus.

For the education industry, talking about commercial value is a little special. Especially for higher education, while the long-held image of nurturing talent, disseminating knowledge, and focusing on research, earning commercial benefits is less discussed. However, people should note that the school's daily teaching, research investment, the creation of new disciplines, the organization of various activities, and even the campus maintenance all require substantial financial support. Even if a school can get sponsorship from the government or the board, there is no guarantee that these funds will cover its expenses. The schools need to show "performance" to prove that they are worthy of the support and earn additional income. A steady and sufficient supply of high-quality students is the best guarantee of a school's revenue.

Over the past years, American and British universities have built up the right image worldwide, are consistently favored by students from different countries, and receive a large number of applications each year. These schools are very good at using their characteristics to promote themselves, such as many activities, scientific research results, alumni who have made achievements in different fields, interaction, and cooperation with enterprises. Various media publicity becomes their way to attract students. They have never been low-key in their marketing strategy, sending a clear message to students around the world: Join us, and your dream will come true.

Meanwhile, France, which also has vital educational resources, has been particularly quiet. The country that is best at creating dreams and storytelling to build brand value has failed to take its higher education industry to the world.

- What is a current trend the universities facing?

The pandemic is profoundly impacting the universities. Because of the control policies, the international students cannot travel as usual, which causes a lack of students for universities. Fewer students, of course, have led to lower revenues, and many schools are in financial trouble. If the schools cannot show their students the confidence and strength to ensure the quality of teaching at this time, it will be difficult for the schools to attract more students even after the crises ends. The school's risk management ability and branding strategy become crucial competitive power.

Most students are studying remotely now, which could be new for them initially; however, it is not the study experience that international students expected. For the students who want to study abroad, a life journey in a different cultural environment is as important as a diploma. Also, because of this, students still want to travel to the countries they wanted to study. Therefore, the schools that can take advantage of the chance to attract more students are the ones that have the most incredible opportunity to grow.

The universities in the UK and the US have an impressive heritage among international students. Despite the high cost, these two countries remain the most popular destinations for studying abroad. The universities in these two countries have an efficient marketing strategy to interest students. However, French schools, which also want to attract more international students, have failed to do so.

- How the UK and US universities use the digital marketing strategy to attract international students?

Before analyzing their digital marketing strategy, let us view some data. China is one of the world's largest source countries for international students; the number of people studying abroad increases year by year. In 2019 alone, the number of Chinese studying abroad reached 710,000, among which 363,341 went to the United States, 192,984 to Australia, 143,412 to Canada, 95,090 to the United Kingdom, and 35,043 to France. Because of the impact of the trade war between China and the US in 2018, Chinese students' intention to study in the US has declined. Instead, the proportion of their first choice of UK has risen rapidly, while France is not included in the statistics. In recent years, Russia, Japan, and Germany have also become popular destinations with Chinese students, and the number of students studying there has risen rapidly. However, France is still not on the country list, which shows that French higher education has not succeeded in attracting Chinese students.

In contrast, universities in the United States and the United Kingdom have been heavily invested social media in recent years. They know that today's young people spend a lot of time online, and putting information online can effectively increase transmission. They set up groups in different media to create new topics for students to interact with directly.

The most popular Vlog method is also driving a lot of traffic for them. With the rise of video recording apps globally, more and more young people participate in them. The content of video platforms is becoming more prosperous, and study vloggers have become popular in recent years. If people search on YouTube, almost all of the most popular study vloggers are from universities in the US and the UK. They record their daily campus life, share their learning experiences so that their subscribers all over the world can browse through the videos to learn what universities’ real study life is. They can exchange opinions with these vloggers directly by social media. Through this direct interaction, these student vloggers become the most persuasive ambassadors for their universities. The universities do not need to spend a lot of money on advertising to get publicity worldwide. Of course, the universities have partnered with them to create videos of introductory classes, campus tours, cultural events, and recruitment activities. Not only the universities gained more attention, but these student vloggers have also expanded their careers.

Here are some examples:

John Fish, a Harvard student who opened his YouTube channel in 2010, has 893,000 subscribers. He often shares his efficient learning style and time management method, which are loved by many students.

Ali Abdaal, a medicine graduate of Cambridge University, has 1.38 million subscribers on YouTube. He shares videos on studying, preparing for exams, his reading lists, how to stay productive while in isolation at home, and how to use social media to start a business. He now works as a junior doctor in the NHS, and he has shared his experience of fighting the covid-19 on the front line on social media.

Holly Gabrielle, also a Cambridge University graduate studying at UCL, has 386,000 subscribers on her channel. She is a super productive and hard-working student; her too tight study schedule and efficient study method inspired many students and encouraged many subscribers when she graduated as her first major from Cambridge University. Her videos also document the creation of a clothing line with her sister, how she started her online tutoring site and the spread of vegetarianism.

Linya Peng, a Chinese girl studying economics at Cambridge University, has 893,000 followers on Bilibili- the most popular video website for young people in China. The video that made her an overnight online celebrity is of her too-tight schedule as a student at Cambridge University. Most of her videos show how she balances school activities and social life while staying focused during the long hours. Like all the vloggers mentioned above, she got into one of the world's top universities not only through talent but also through hard work and a disciplined lifestyle.

Many more student vloggers like them, but all of them convey a positive, hard-working attitude to life and have become role models for students everywhere. In the comments on their videos, many subscribers mentioned that their goal is to get into the same universities. Videos of their daily lives have become promotions for their universities. Unfortunately, few of these popular videos come from French universities.

- What are the impacts?

Reducing the cost of entering new markets

With the promotion of these student vloggers, the schools can save a lot of marketing investment. Maybe the videos shot by student vloggers themselves are not formal enough, but they are vivid and real. These real-life clips and learning are far more convincing than flashy advertisements, and the direct communication between students is much more effective. This real-life is what students who want to study abroad want to know most, and when they see these hardworking and excellent students, they seem to see themselves in their dreams. These vloggers are using their life stories to create the ideal university dream for students worldwide. Their universities simply need to support them and partner with them to achieve more significant publicity than expected.

Spread the name of the university and help students grow their brand

While the school's reputation has spread, these students have also achieved the transformation from the personal ability to business value. As their videos became popular, they got more business cooperation opportunities and started their own business. Transforming knowledge into business value is also a kind of promotion for the students themselves; after all, they will leave campus eventually and have a foothold in the society. Their success has also allowed more students to see career development and the practical value of studying at these universities. It's a win-win situation for both the universities and the students.

Increasing the talent pool and starting a healthy circle

For universities, the most immediate benefit of this kind of publicity is to attract more international students. When students find their dream school by watching the videos, the number of applicants increases. In this way, schools with more applicants will be able to screen out the best students by increasing their application requirements. In this way, higher-quality students and high-quality teaching resources will lead to higher results, and schools will have a better reputation to attract more students. Thus, the virtuous sustainable development cycle has been established. Schools that lack quality students will have more negative effects later.

- What French higher education industry needs to change?

Open mind

Based on my living and studying experience in France over the years, I have found that the French education industry is very cautious about new technologies and new trends. In many cases, even though other countries have caught up with the change, France still tends to wait and see. France’s higher education industry needs to open minds and be brave to accept new changes and challenges. At the same time, schools need support and encourage students to participate in the school reform.

When universities worldwide are competing for international students, and the United States and Britain have had successful digital expansion strategies, French universities have yet to implement practical changes in the new environment. French universities need to quickly adapt their marketing strategies to take advantage of new technologies and extensive resources to become internationally known.

Strengthen cooperation between schools

The higher education system in France is more complicated than in the UK or the US and can be confusing for international students. There are many schools with different majors and different fields of study, public universities, business schools, engineering schools, art schools, and so on. As a result, the strength of French higher education is relatively dispersed. In recent years, French universities have carried out reforms and formed university union COMUE. However, the league is not as strong or internationally known as the Ivy League in the United States and the Russell Group in the United Kingdom. Because different schools are fragmented, schools need to collaborate more closely and make better use of faculty and alumni to compete internationally.

Define identity clearly

A university, like a brand, needs to have a clear image before implementing an effective marketing strategy. Each school has its characteristics, such as advantageous programs, disciplines at specializations, different historical backgrounds, rich alumni resources, particular campus culture, and urban environment. Universities can promote all of these to highlight their characteristics. Schools need to define themselves first so that they don't become overwhelmed by a flood of information.





"The marketing strategies of universities in the United Kingdom",


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I'm Sylvie WU, the founder of Étude Boundaryless

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