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Appetite in China has “not ceased” despite ongoing “firestorm”

The demand that China has for international education “has not ceased”, despite the difficult rhetoric from the West and China not being afraid to “add to the firestorm”, according to stakeholders. 

One panellist said China needed to examine its universities' reputations. Photo: Pexels

The friction is there "for sure" on both sides, but the bigger picture tells a different story

Desmond Kohn, who is director of global business development at Sinorbis and familiar with the market, told delegates at The PIE Live North America that the friction is there “for sure” on both sides, but the bigger picture tells a different story.

“[The demand hasn’t ceased] because it’s not derived from government directives. We talk about the US declining in recent years, aggregated by places like Australia as well, but it’s still the most important market,” Kohn explained.

In the years leading up to the pandemic, tensions between China and Australia seemed to impact the international education sector, with Beijing accused of disinformation over safety warnings about travelling to Australia.

A survey of 54 school-based college counsellors in China in 2020 found that 87% said Chinese students and parents were reconsidering their plans for studying in the US. More recently, US visa data has indicated that the country issued 50% fewer visas to new Chinese students in the first six months of 2022 than before the pandemic.

“Demand is based on many different factors, but one of them is cultural, which the government, through many means, would like to probably control – but that is still not the case,” Kohn continued however. 

The diversity of the private wealth portfolio is less pronounced in China, Kohn pointed out, as there is a strong Confucian value placed on education – and so private wealth mostly goes into that industry, and into households. 

“If we talk about China as a market for the long term, in the 10 to 20 year period, these considerations should play a part,” he added.

Despite this demand, on the other hand, Oxford International Education Group CEO Lil Bremermann-Richard, said that in reality, universities are now attempting to diversify.

“We talk about the US declining in recent years, but it’s still the most important market”

“I think we’ve moved away from a world where universities’ biggest priority is China,” she said. 

“The focus is now on diversity and that that shift of focus has meant that potentially some of the numbers are in decline.

“China means a lot of work – it’s not like it’s one country, it’s more like a continent, and a lot of effort needs to be made, so I think there is a difference in approach from [recruiters] versus the approach from the demand from students,” Bremermann-Richard explained.

Continuing with the theme of difficult rhetoric in geopolitics, the panel turned to Taiwan, its growing international exposure, and whether the country’s reopening could pose risks to relation outcomes with Chinese partners. 

“It really goes back to this unpredictable geopolitics,” said Huajing Maske, assistant VP for international partnerships and professor of global studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. 

“I think whatever happens, still within higher ed, China will need to enhance its university reputation and will need to engage with the US. 

“They are still trying to upgrade most of their universities, so in that case they will need the exchange, the engagement with US universities, whether Taiwan is making progress or not,” Maske commented. 

When the panel moved to discuss online delivery in China, Charlie Iannuzzi, co-founder and president of Beacon Education called the method a “different beast” in the eastern country. 

“China will need to enhance its university reputation”

“We didn’t know what we were going to get until we started. But universities that are doing online programs seem to be searching for places that are fundamentally non-competitive, massive, untapped and growing. China is one of those,” he told delegates. 

He explained that of Beacon’s online programs, the fastest-growing ones were in Chinese, due to the fact a lot of Chinese students won’t necessarily know English.

“Adaptations like that are necessary – and it’s really only two or three cities we’re seeing students come from [in China], so it’s really early days… and it’s tough, but there’s tremendous growth.

“And then at some point, the Chinese government is going to come in and start pushing online degrees themselves and requiring the domestic universities to do that. Once that happens, then the accreditation starts, the certification starts, and that’ll open up the doors to the local universities and for international universities. 

“At that point it’s going to be a little bit later, about six or seven years away or so. So it’s this little gap to take advantage and build infrastructure,” Iannuzzi added.

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