China’s demand for pricey international schools ‘insatiable’

The International School Consultancy, which monitors school trends worldwide, says the demand among Chinese for English-language schools like Haileybury is “insatiable.” More than 150,000 Chinese students are currently enrolled in international schools, according to the consultancy, which says the number of Chinese who can afford to pay seemingly stratospheric fees for those schools — even if it’s just a small percentage of the country’s population — will continue to grow, absent a dramatic downturn in China’s economy.

China’s top public high schools are intensely competitive and often criticized as excessively test-driven. Before their teenage years, children study long hours for entrance exams, often with high-priced private tutors. And at the end of high school, students take the notoriously difficult Chinese college entrance exam, the Gaokao, where a bad score can relegate a good student to a lesser university.

A massive government-ordered expansion of higher education over the last decade has produced many marginal colleges whose degrees count for little. That makes an overseas education even more attractive.

Western prep schools in China advertise a smoother pathway to university overseas, with teaching that emphasizes critical thinking over memorization and classes based on the International Baccalaureate program or others recognized abroad.

Once limited mainly to foreign children, international schools have been allowed during the last two decades to open campuses for Chinese students jointly with local companies. And while the Chinese government has sought to tighten its ideological control over textbooks and limit perceived Western influences, the international schools offer a valuable infusion of new teaching methods and options for China’s middle class.