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Peng Sang, President, BOSSA

Peng Sang, President of BOSSA, China’s largest agency association, spoke to The PIE about its role in the industry to help overseas institutions build partnerships in China and its plans to introduce an inspection process for education agencies.

The PIE: How did you get involved in the international education industry?      

"If I weren't involved, the government would push the industry to set up the standard. But at the moment I'm the best person to undergo this programme"

PS: I used to work in the Beijing Higher Education Bureau from 1984. Since then I’ve worked for the government – I was in charge of arranging overseas students to study in mainland China.

“There are 450 agencies with a licence, and thousands without. I think it’s very difficult for overseas universities to tell good from bad”

The PIE: So bringing them inbound into China?

PS: I had already started cooperation between overseas agencies and inland universities. Then I was in charge of the programme of international schools in China. The next stage was how foreigners established international schools in China.

In 1996, the Beijing Higher Education Bureau integrated with other departments in the government to become the Beijing Education Commission and in 1999, I was in charge of arranging of arranging for Chinese students to study overseas.

I am very experienced in this industry.

The PIE: Do you still work for the Higher Education Bureau?

PS: Not any more. I’m retired from government.

The PIE: Can you tell me about BOSSA’s plans to help institutions establish partnerships where they can send students into China?

PS: There are two ways to start a relationship with overseas universities, to start an educational programme in China. The first is to let the universities cooperate to provide diplomas. This process needs to be certified by China’s government.

Most students who participate in this programme rarely have the chance to go abroad to further their studies. They have to complete their study in mainland China.

One example is Nottingham University’s Ningbo campus. Students study the programme provided by both a Chinese partner university and Nottingham University and get the degree from both universities.

The PIE: Are there any drawbacks to this model?

PS: It’s very difficult for local [institutions] to apply for this partnership through the government because it’s a long process.

The second problem is during the cooperation there might be differences of opinion between China’s school and the overseas university. They have to negotiate: what subjects are they going to teach? Some of the subjects are very strict within Chinese mainland universities. For example, we have to study Marxism and all the students have to participate in physical education class. This is rarely seen from the foreign universities.

“For example, we have to study Marxism and all the students have to participate in physical education class”

After all this, even though the students have completed all the programmes that the universities provide, it’s very difficult for them to get the justification from both sides.

The PIE: So that’s why BOSSA can provide a service to foreign institutions, to help them negotiate this?

PS: BOSSA helps universities to establish their partnership and negotiate with the Chinese government in order to make things easier.

The PIE: As a business model, does BOSSA charge a service fee?

PS: We haven’t charged any fees from either party. We are a non-profit organisation.

With the first scenario of the partnership, it’s very difficult to cover a wide range of universities, because in mainland China tuition fees and accommodation fees are controlled by the Chinese government. The government takes all the money, not the school itself. But for overseas universities, it’s hard to cover the cost to provide such quality education for them.

“Our Chinese students cannot get used to the idea of how to study in different educational systems”

Most overseas universities are not interested in this kind of partnership. So that’s how we’ve come to the second scenario. Most overseas universities are interested in the pre-Masters education programme. In order to do this, overseas universities want to get more and more good students from mainland China to undergo their study overseas.

It’s beneficial for the overseas universities because all the fees incurred in the UK go to the university, not the government or someone else.

The PIE: Are these programmes popular among Chinese students?

PS: Entry is difficult for Chinese students, because it’s quite different from the mainland China educational system. The first thing is maybe their English language proficiency is not so good and cannot meet the university’s entry requirements. The second is the methodology of the teaching. Our Chinese students cannot get used to the idea of how to study in different educational systems.

“Their ability seems mismatched with what they have scored”

You can see most Chinese students score high marks in the IELTS and the TOEFL exam. Their ability seems mismatched with what they have scored. We are not saying that our score is false, but China is attached to examinations; everyone just works hard for the examinations and that’s all.

The PIE: How do you think that could be improved?

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