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Regulations on the way for private schools and tutoring in China

Regulations around private tutoring and foreign education are continuing to concern educators in China, some of whom worry that government attempts to rein in the growing sector could impact businesses.

ChinaBeijing recently fined several edtech companies for false advertising. Photo: Unsplash

"There are 186,700 private schools in China"

One Reuters report raised fears of a crackdown on foreign education after reporting foreign curricula for private schools teaching compulsory education could be banned.

Among the regulations, which have been three years in the making, are measures that will prevent local governments using state-owned enterprises and public resources for private schools, and restrictions on the nationalities of members of school decision-making bodies and the use of foreign materials for private schools teaching the compulsory nation curriculum (this will not affect schools for the children of foreign workers).

“It’s not a surprise for any school. They’ve already had three years to work this out and build out dual curriculums or think about creative ways to keep moving forward with a really positive, holistic kind of international looking school,” said Julian Fisher of Venture Education in Beijing, which recently released a report outlining the potential implications of the rules.

“I don’t really think it’s quite as dramatic as these things might appear”

“I don’t really think it’s quite as dramatic as these things might appear.”

Despite the fears circulating, he told The PIE News that the target of the new regulations is not foreign education but that the government is more concerned with regulating a growing industry.

“The main focus of that law really is orientated around stopping public schools in China from going private or trying to take on some of the functions of private schools, such as raising money,” he continued.

“There’s a tendency in the Western media to lean towards the idea that this is anti-foreign. There are 186,700 private schools in China. And so the number of international schools may well be in the thousands but that’s a complete blip when it when it comes to the number of schools.”

Of greater concern may be rumours that the restrictions for after school tutoring, reported in The PIE last month, may be stricter than expected.

After school tutoring businesses, particularly large edtech companies, have spent the last few months under increased scrutiny.

The likes of TAL and New Oriental have seen their stocks fall with each new rumour and announcement, while fines have been handed out in Beijing to a slew of companies, including Yuanfudao, Koolearn and Zuoyebang, over false advertising.

Edtech in China has boomed since the outbreak of Covid-19, although the latest rumours have put a freeze on at least one company’s fundraising plans.

However, it hasn’t stopped Shenzhen-based platform Zhangmen from filing for an IPO in the New York Stock Exchange, although in its prospectus it noted that “uncertainties exist in relation to new legislation”, along with uncertainties regarding licenses and permits.

For the last few years, the Chinese government, both at a national and provincial level, has tried to reduce the burden on students and costs for parents as the country’s competitive education system drives the growth of education spending.

Some have suggested that the high cost of raising a child is also putting families off having more than one, which is now being promoted by the government following the ending of the One-Child Policy in 2015.

New regulations governing after school learning could be released as early as June and, according to sources, may include the banning of weekend tutoring and the restriction of class times on weekdays.

The impact of this could be devastating for English language learning centres. One training centre owner in southern China noted that for small businesses, weekend tutoring represents a significant amount of income.

“Half of my income would disappear”

“I myself teach Thursday to Sunday, so right there half of my income would disappear. I would hazard to guess that most training centres make the bulk of their income on weekends as well,” they said.

Pressure has been growing for greater regulation in the ESL sector, which has over the years been criticised for practises including lying to parents about the nationality of teachers and poor course delivery.

“The handwriting has been on the wall for some time that changes were coming,” said the centre owner.

“We have already seen changes being implemented in Beijing. I do think there is some need for more oversight, as many unscrupulous business people who know nothing about education have been opening training centres in recent years.

“[But] I think there is going to be significant blowback from parents if these rules are implemented. Kids will be pushed to the same extreme limits whether training centres offer weekend classes or not.”

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