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Rong Zhou, New Oriental Vision Overseas, China

Rong Zhou works as Consultant to the CEO at New Oriental, one of China’s best known education counselling agencies which is part of a larger NYSE-listed private education and training company. She talks to The PIE about the new gaokao exam that has less focus on English, the company’s evolution and new innovative marketing ideas.

The PIE: How long have you been working for New Oriental Vision Overseas?

"For several weeks, we will travel to multiple cities, visiting top institutions, showcasing local culture, and importantly, meeting with Chinese students"

RZ: I have been working for New Oriental for 14 years and this is my 15th year. My latest position is as Consultant to the CEO.

The PIE: Please tell me about the company?
RZ: New Oriental Vision Overseas Consulting Co. Ltd was established in 2004 as a subsidiary company of New Oriental Education and Technology Group. Across the group we provide language training services and professional education counselling services as well as running New Oriental schools.

The PIE: How have you seen market in China develop over 15 years?
RZ: It has developed so quick that I can’t believe it myself. Fifteen years ago when I joined the company there were a large number of students who were taking TOEFL tests – at that time I thought it was a large number because thousands of students were preparing to take the test. But you could never imagine that that number of English language learning students could increase to two million annually.

“The majority of these 400,000 students have received some kind of service from New Oriental”

The PIE: So two million take the TOEFL test via your company?
RZ: No, but we have two million enrollees on our courses per year. We have other courses to provide, not only TOEFL GRE and SAT test preparation training, although they are our core business.

The PIE: What sort of learning network do you have?
RZ: We have more than 700 learning centres around the country scattered around in more than 50 cities. We provide all kinds of English courses to Chinese students from 3 years old.

The PIE: In terms of the outbound study abroad trend, do you think this will continue to change?
RZ: Oh yes. Even though we have two million students studying with us, and some might have been studying with us for 10 years before they go abroad, there are 400,000 annually now going overseas from China. The majority of these students have received some kind of service from New Oriental.

“Only about 4% of students are now going outside. I think it should rise to about 9 or 12%”

This is a large number but comparing to the population in China and the birth rate, it is still a small number, and by percentage only about 4% of students are now going outside. I think it should rise to about 9 or 12%.

The PIE: How is New Oriental planning to enable more outbound study?
RZ: Well, during the past 20 years, we have been fostering the market and educating the market. We tour around the country to every corner of the land to inspire the younger generation. We have already made a lot of changes, from lecturing to the general public to giving classes in large groups of about 400 to 1000, to small classes of several students or even one-on-one mentoring.

The PIE: Classes of 1000 — really?!
RZ: Yes – majority of the students only watched a video, a little screen while the teacher spoke in another room, maybe there were 4 or 5 classrooms. This is the way that we were successful originally.

“A majority of the students only watched a video, a little screen while the teacher spoke in another room”

[The format] has already been changed to small classes, where students have more interactive teaching – this is the trend in China. Students want more personalised coaching; they hope to have more individualised services other than what we provided in the past.

The PIE: Do you use native English teachers?
RZ: Yes we do. We used to have a small number of internationals working with us, now a large number. Most are from England, Ireland, Canada and the US.

The PIE: How do you see the market in China changing – what age is typical now to start learning English?
RZ: The Chinese have put more emphasis on English study over the past 10 years because of the stimulus of the Olympic Games. When China got the chance to host it in 2008 there was a stimulus to the market. Children in primary or elementary schools had many classes.

Last year, the government announced a reform to GAOKAO, the national college entrance examination. This will cause change to the education system. There used to be a very heavy proportion in English in the college entrance exam, but very soon this will be decreased.

The PIE: What does this mean?
RZ: China is very test-driven. When they changed this policy, I think students will tend to spend more of their time on their Chinese learning and science and maths learning.

The PIE: So actually in school they are spending less time on English now?
RZ: Yes I think so, in high school and elementary school. This way, I think the market will not be like the old times, with everyone taking that much time on English study. But the study abroad trend is not changed, it is still there and more people will choose to study abroad.

“There used to be a very heavy proportion in English in the college entrance exam, but very soon this will be decreased”

And those that do need greater English proficiency. So for those that seek to study outside of China, they will seek this kind of language services that we provide. There will be an increased demand.

The PIE: Which countries are most interesting for Chinese students?
RZ: The US is a top priority for China. There is the largest number of schools here and also because of the quality of the education, the society is open and the US encourages multiculturalism.

The PIE: Are you aware of 100K Strong initiative [to boost bilateral student exchange between the USA and China]?
RZ: Yes I learned about it two years ago—it is an initiative by the Obama government. Not all Chinese know about this strategy, only the people in our industry. But we see very few people from the US in China.

The PIE: How do you select partners you want to work with?
RZ: We welcome partners from all kinds of institutions, universities, schools and community colleges, to come to us and speak to our students. They appreciate meeting with these institutions directly.

“For those that seek to study outside of China, they will seek this kind of language services that we provide”

The PIE: Please tell me about the fam tour to the US and New Zealand that your company conducted last year.
RZ: ‘Vision on the Way’ is an education marketing campaign, sending a team of New Oriental leaders and experienced counselors on a road trip overseas to capture what education, life, and culture is like in these countries. For several weeks, we will travel to multiple cities, visiting top institutions, showcasing local culture, and importantly, meeting with Chinese students who are currently studying and/or working in these countries.

We take video footage and photos and share these experiences as we are traveling via online forums and blogs to our student base in China. In 2013, we travelled to New Zealand (working closely with the Educated New Zealand) and the US. In the coming 12 months, we hope to travel to one or two more countries.

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