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Xiaofan Li, CEO, EdBridge UK Group

Xiaofan Li left behind a successful career in quant development to establish EdBridge UK. He spoke to The PIE News about his vision for EdBridge – ensuring international students are equipped to succeed with linguistic and STEM skills.

The PIE: How did EdBridge UK Group get started?

LX: For a while I had been thinking of trying something in education and starting a business of my own. Last year I invited some friends and families’ children over for a trial and we got some pretty good reception for some of the schools they went to, so I felt it was worth exploring.

"They come here primarily to study English during their two-week stay, but just English is not enough"

This year I went back to China, carried out more trials and got a good reception. At that point I felt I needed to do it full time. We founded the company in June and we started getting students from July. Our last batch of students have just finished their courses and gone back to their school [in China].

The PIE: What prompted the change from the world of FX quant and hedge funds to education?

LX: I’ve always been fond of the educational sector because I believe that teaching people and giving people opportunities to be more informed and to travel is important. To some extent this job gave me more fulfilment, and interacting with the children is great – they’re so energetic. Plus it’s totally different from what I had been doing.

I feel immensely proud to be able to have become a part of this, to help more kids to understand the world in which we are living.

The PIE: Tell us a little bit about EdBridge and where you focus.

LX: We founded EdBridge with the thought that it’s not just an agency. We came here as an agent connecting the language schools and the summer school students – this is our first line of business but we want to enter into in-depth tutoring courses, or creative courses for the domestic students as well.

“I wanted to do something new that would help more kids to realise there is this financial and scientific world to explore”

It’s mainly a STEM type of background [we focus on] as I see the need or desire for more STEM education all around the world. I would like to promote this by having tours with scientific or technological elements in it as well as providing all sorts of STEM-based courses for home students.

We want to grow and become an institute that can truly facilitate or augment the curriculum to to bridge the gaps between a normal school education and those used in the industry or in scientific research.

The PIE: Why?

In 20 years’ life will be totally different, artificial intelligence and smart technology will play a vital role in all industries around us and I want my set up at EdBridge to play a part in getting the kids up to speed in these areas, that’s what the ultimate goal is. But in the short-term, we want to build a successful educational services company that bridges the students overseas and here.

The PIE: What is your view on English Plus, or language courses with something else added on?

LX: I think this is the way forward for summer schools and I am happy to see more and more language schools provide these. Although I am more familiar with the STEM side of things, with the language schools, experiences such as art and history are a draw factor for the students.

They come here primarily to study English during their two-week stay, but just English is not enough. They want something extra, and these experiences are exactly what would make the students feel that they have had a fantastic trip.

The PIE:  Your business in China is specifically targeting smaller Tier 2 cities, can you talk a little bit about why that is?

LX: The Tier 1 cities – the mega cities – are saturated with both service providers and students. The schools are very big and many students have already been to western countries, so the parents are less easily persuaded to pay for a trip to the UK.

“I did a Master’s, my PHD in the UK and all my experiences had been very positive”

Tier 2 cities have rising middle classes and parents have more funds to use because of relatively lower house prices. They also want their kids to have the same experience as the Tier 1 cities. So that’s why I think those cities provide opportunity for the agents or the schools to explore as a starting point.

The PIE: You also chose English as a starting point, are you looking to provide other language skills, such as French?

LX: Currently not as I need to decide what my plan is, whether it’s staying as a UK based agency with students from different overseas countries, or mainly dealing with Chinese students and then explore other destinations. Currently the former is more natural because I’ve been living here for 12 years and want to continue doing so, but I can’t rule out the option of including a French excursion for students, or similar.

The PIE: You touched on it earlier, but can you talk about how your experience in the UK influenced your decision to start this business?

LX: For me, the UK was the obvious choice. I wanted to focus on the UK market because I came here after my degree, I did a Master’s, my PHD and my experience all had been very positive. I like the culture here, the way of life and the way of doing things.

The PIE: Finally, there’s a new generation of Chinese agents coming over to the UK. How is that going to affect the market?

LX: I think they will shape the market pretty well. The vast majority of the language schools provide solely English courses, with a few exceptions. With the increase in the students from China this is probably going to change because naturally these agents will need to think about this.

Some will be successful and some won’t be, but I think they are going to alter the industry by reflecting their client’s needs. The client’s needs are going to be more sophisticated, not from a single source. That’s what education is about, the future and the jobs market.

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