With Malaysian offices in operation for two years, this move does not mark the firm’s first foray into foreign territories, however, China is a different market, managing director Samuel Chan told The PIE News.
“We need to educate them about habits, culture, living, food, plenty of issues about the UK in general”
“There is a huge cultural gap and we need to bridge that gap,” he said. Hong Kong’s colonial history means many pupils go to the UK,” he said.
While Britannia StudyLink currently sends around 600 pupils to the UK boarding schools per year, the largest agency in mainland China places around 200.
According to Chan, he will be “happy to get 40 in the first two years”.
“We will be operating a very different model. We will charge a consultancy fee, whereas in Hong Kong it’s a very free transparent market. There is less work for us to do in Hong Kong than in China,” he said.
“[In China, students] usually come in at a younger age, often they will look for some of the highest sought after high schools such as Eton or Harrow, and more importantly the English level is generally lower so it is very difficult to place them into a school, let alone a top public school.
“Not only do we need to educate them about schools but we need to educate them about habits, culture, living, food, plenty of issues about the UK in general.”
Families have been more likely to opt for the US or Canadian boarding opportunities over the UK in the past, Chan added.
The new office’s location in Shenzhen offers advantages to the company – it is 15 minutes from Hong Kong by high-speed train, and in Southern China, “people trust a Hong Kong brand”, he explained.
Chan is aware of recent reports highlighting an economic slowdown in China, but said there were other pressing issues.
“My challenge is not on finding rich enough Chinese families, it’s to have the ability to broadcast information on UK boarding schools in China. With marketing and media channels being very well controlled it’s very difficult to broadcast information about UK boarding schools on a wide scale like we have in Hong Kong.”