By Simon Stewart
Director, Education and Innovation (China)
China-Britain Business Council
The Year of the Monkey saw an increase in the number of international and dual-curriculum schools across China, a sensitive and previously unregulated field. The government reacted by implementing new regulations for compulsory education (age 6 to 15), known as the Third Amendment, which notably includes policies to safeguard some of the Chinese elements of the curriculum in the face of parents’ growing appetite for international-style schooling.
So are the heady days over for international schools? Should we be concerned about the Ministry of Education’s intervention? Essentially, no. Whilst it will require British institutions in China to carefully redesign their year 1 to 9 curricula, we expect international involvement still to be welcomed by the Chinese government, investors, parents and pupils.
Although it is still too early to say how exactly the new law will be applied in the different regions of China, we can state that it covers the following key areas.
- It is prohibited for non-public (private) schools to make profit during the compulsory education phase (years 1 to 9);
- Non-public schools will be treated in the same way as public (state) schools in China in terms of curricular requirements and fee structures;
- For-profit non-public schools teaching outside years 1 to 9 (including kindergartens, senior high schools, higher education and adult education) are free to price their provision independently at the discretion of Chinese investors and the schools themselves.
Ultimately, the Ministry of Education wants to ensure that education in the critical compulsory phase is managed so that quality levels remain high. They are concerned that schools should retain their focus on education rather than business and profit-making.
This does not mean that international providers cannot create a viable and sustainable school. It can be done with the right approach and an understanding of how to correctly structure an educational institution in China. (See CBBC’s 2016 International Schools report, free to download here, to learn more about this.) It does mean, however, that international schools will need to approach the Chinese market in a slightly different way.
According to Dr Mark Abell of the law firm Bird & Bird, “The greatest impact of the changes is that you will have to be even more selective in your choice of partner in China and invest more time and energy in the due diligence process to ensure that the new China operation complies with all national and local government regulations.
“The partner agreement will need to stipulate that full compliance with the regulations is a condition of opening and operating the school. Details of the input that is required from the UK school, together with the evidence of compliance required before consent is given to open and operate the school, will also be essential,” says Dr Abell.
In short, the new regulations will:
- Increase still further the importance of choosing the correct partner;
- Affect the nature and depth of the pre-contractual due diligence required;
- Require extra effort to monitor post-execution compliance;
- Have a varying impact from region to region.
From an educational point of view, UK schools should continue to put the “student experience” at the centre of the development of their school and curriculum. It is an opportunity for them to embrace what is good about the Chinese education system and also to find areas which add value to pupils’ development through international-style teaching and school-based or extracurricular activities.
The new Year of the Rooster will require schools to pay extra attention to partner selection, due diligence, contractual agreements, curriculum design and school operations and auditing (although for schools just entering the market, paying heed to these core areas is basic best practice and should be done in any case).
As is often the case, the opportunity is greatest for those organisations that want to engage in a long-term project in China, one which will provide a compelling international-style syllabus for both local and expat students, as well as a sustainable commercial model for the school. Whilst the development of dual-curriculum schools will be slower under the new regulations, CBBC expects the demand for schools which combine Chinese and international elements to grow, which will provide business opportunities not just for schools but also in edtech, teacher training and recruitment, and the design of teaching materials.
The crow of the rooster heralds a new dawn. But do not be alarmed. Schools which are awake to the recent changes and their implications still have opportunities to prosper across China in 2017.
To learn more about CBBC’s dual-curriculum design projects or how the new Third Amendment might impact your school contact CBBC’s China-based director for education and innovation, Simon Stewart, at email@example.com.