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China Sees Big Changes to IS Demographics

By Richard Gaskell
China Sees Big Changes to IS Demographics

The decline of Western expatriates in China and the increase of returning Chinese expatriates to their home country signal shifts that are steadily changing the face of the international schools market in China.
A new market intelligence report on English-medium international schools in China will be launched by ISC Research this December, highlighting extensive data analysis and intelligence collected over the current academic year (2017–2018) that illustrate the ways in which the market is evolving.
More private education for China
New regulations issued this year suggest that the Chinese government is embracing private education for the first time. This will enable more opportunities for foreign investment into the private international education sector. The report highlights these and other relevant legislative initiatives, including an amendment to the law promoting privately run schools and imposing restrictions on international curriculum.
No longer is international school investment driven by the demand from expatriates. Today the biggest demand comes from Chinese nationals.
The cities of Beijing and Shanghai in particular have seen the departure of high numbers of Western and Korean expatriates in recent years. Some foreign companies have relocated, while others are replacing their expatriate middle managers with returning Chinese having studied and honed their skills through careers in Western countries.
Schools for expats shift admissions
This movement in the labor force has brought challenges to traditional international schools, which in China are known as Schools for the Children of Foreign Workers (SCFW). By law, these schools have only been allowed to enroll foreign-passport-holding students and Hong Kong residents, so maintaining enrollment at the level it has known in recent years is becoming a challenge.
Some SCFW schools are responding to these developments by shifting their admission policies to accept more returning expatriate Chinese children. Such children are now eligible to attend SCFW schools if they have spent at least two years overseas or hold a resident’s passport, as in the case of American-born Chinese students. Whereas in the past the SCFW schools were dominated by Western faces, now there are many more Chinese children, and that demographic is expected to increase further.
Westernized Chinese parents
As China becomes increasingly open to the rest of the world, a wave of young, Western-educated Chinese adults are returning to the country, seeking out the best opportunities in their homeland for their families and the development of their careers. Those who are parents come with high expectations for their children.
These adults have seen for themselves the high number of Chinese students who have dropped out of Western universities because of inadequate English language skills, or a severe lack of the independent learning and creative thinking skills required.
Knowing the qualities necessary for success at Western universities is driving these parents to find the best local education solution for their own children. Some are now choosing SCFW schools, while others are looking to a more Chinese-influenced international learning provision.
International options for Chinese nationals
For all Chinese nationals, the vast majority of whom do not have access to SCFW schools, an alternative option is emerging: the international Chinese private school sector. It is these schools, accessible to all Chinese families who can afford them, that are driving the growth of English-medium international education in China today.
Over the past five years, the growth of International Chinese Private Schools has been extensive and the demand for places rising steadily.
These institutions are required to abide by strict national laws regarding curricula and subject learning, particularly during the years of compulsory education. Nevertheless, they can also provide an opportunity for learning in English from a very young age (often from as young as 3 years old) and, for students aged 15 and over, these schools can offer international curricula and examinations. Most select those that are recognized by all universities globally, such as A levels, Advanced Placement (AP), and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP).
Many of these schools are also embracing a more Western style of pedagogy to acclimate students to learning approaches that prepare them well for higher education and careers. This combination of qualifications, academic rigor, and learning approach—while maintaining distinct Chinese influence—is attracting many Chinese nationals with aspirations for their children.
Big demand for Western brands
British, American, and Australian independent schools have a significant presence in China and are very successful due to the huge popularity of school brands among Chinese nationals. Some of these are schools for expatriate children, but a growing number are aligned to Chinese investors in order to offer Chinese nationals a Western independent school approach to learning.
Within both sectors, the reputation of these institutions as reliable pathways to the very top universities in North America and Britain keep demand for places exceeding supply, even in those schools with the very highest fees.
The need for professional capital
For all the international schools in China, one of the greatest challenges is professional capital. Currently, expatriate teachers working at international schools in China can be recruited from only one of six countries, whether as passport holders or with a university degree: the U.K., U.S., Canada, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.
Attracting sufficient numbers of experienced teachers from these countries is increasingly difficult, especially as the global international schools market continues to expand and attract qualified teachers to many other countries.
There is an increasingly urgent need for centers to promote teacher excellence capable of upskilling local teachers to international standards in order to help address this rising demand.
Development likely
With foreign investment in relevant contexts now being explicitly encouraged by the Chinese government, the expansion of the international Chinese private school sector looks likely. To support planning and due diligence when it comes to school investment and development, the new ISC Research China market intelligence report will include foreign investment models; new government regulations for 2017 and other pertinent legislation, as well as demographics by province and city, including population, GDP, cost of living, and income and disposable income levels.
The forthcoming ISC report will also feature detailed data analysis on the market, including two emerging regions for international school development, plus six new focus zones, among which Guangxi Province and Chongqing Municipality.

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