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ISC report notes increase in Chinese private international schools

A new report from British research firm ISC Research, has highlighted the growth of “an international style of education” in China, and the steep rise in Chinese children joining immigrant communities in the new schools.

Could the report be signalling a new dawn of Chinese international education? Photo: Flickr/ Boris Kasimov

Second tier cities like Jiangsu and Zhejiang are touted as spaces to watch for school growth

ISC, which focuses on providing objective intelligence for the global international school market, pointed out a large increase of international schools opening in the past five years – 228 new institutions bringing the total to 857.

“The market is still in its infancy but this growth is a very positive sign”

Another 48 are set to open in the coming years, the report announced.

The ownership of the new schools has also hiked the number of Chinese-owned private schools offering an international education to 563.

“The new guidelines provide greater clarity for foreign schools and suppliers wishing to benefit from China’s expanding private education market. However, investment in schools accessible to Chinese children is only possible by Chinese investors, with the contracting of foreign independent school brands via service agreements,” ISC Research schools director Richard Gaskell explained.

The enrolment rates discovered by ISC Research as similarly impressive, and explain the rapid school building that took place.

A 64% increase in the five years to 2018 mean the latest figures revealed 245,500 students enrolled in international private K-12 education in China.

The paper gives several reasons for the boom, some more surprising than others.

Private education expenditure has risen among Chinese families, “a result of a growth in [China-wide] prosperity”, the report noted. It is unclear how this may be affected by a recent economic levelling-off, and the ongoing ‘trade war’ with the US, though some have speculated it is already affecting higher education.

“There is sufficient demand by enough wealthy Chinese parents in China for an international style of education for their children, that the market is expected to expand at pace, regardless of economic influence,” Gaskell added.

“The… market is still in its infancy but this [growth] is a very positive sign, indicative of the success of schools to integrate international and local curricula, and to ensure their practices comply with changes in legislation.”

Other growth factors identified in the research include Beijing’s amended “two-child” policy, as well as an increased awareness among Chinese parents of the benefits of international education, and the recent moves to make it easier for foreign investors to run schools in China.

But the report also nods to perhaps a more important lesson: that “a bicultural educational approach is what a growing number of Chinese families want”.

“Investment in schools Chinese children attend is only possible by Chinese investors”

A Chinese curriculum, integrated with some international modules and language teaching, and “retains local culture and history, while introducing international elements… to prepare children for global higher education” is exactly what many parents desire, the report explained.

Despite the growth in Chinese-owned international schools, ISC noted growth to this point has been mainly supported by foreign school brands, mainly from the UK, with a minority coming from the US. This model appeals to parents who “value the educational heritage, reputation, brand prestige, and opportunities” afforded by names such as Dulwich College or Harrow Beijing.

Tier One cities such as Shanghai and Beijing lead the march on international schools, though smaller cities are starting to appear on the map in recent years. Jiangsu and Zhejiang were both highlighted by Gaskell as second-tier cities with booming international school enrolments.

As the market expands, Bonard, the international education research and business analysis firm, said new innovations such as “in-house college counsellors” were being brought into the Chinese market.

“Private international schools have recently started to employ in-house study abroad counsellors (similar to the U.S.-based model), where the counsellor is an individual advisor to a student and is responsible for customised pathway of the student from/throughout school towards university. This is paid for by schools and parents,” a spokesperson explained.

You can buy the full report here.

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