There is still much potential for China-UK cooperation in all-round education and EdTech

As rules change on China’s private after-school tutoring sector have sent shockwaves through the whole education industry in China, quality-oriented education or all-round education stands up to attract much interest from education providers.

In recent years, policy support, economic growth demand, improved education philosophy of parents, and EdTech penetration have all driven the market's rapid growth.

According to iResearch, the quality-oriented education market in China has increased from 264.2 billion yuan in 2015 to 528.6 billion yuan in 2019, with a compound annual growth rate of 19%, and it is expected to exceed 700 billion yuan in 2023.

However, as many players flood into the area, companies who want to succeed in the intensifying competition must improve their own abilities. The common way is enhancing itself, and the other is seeking partnership from others, including partnering with foreign counterparts.

In “UK-China Education Collaboration Forum — Forging a New Era Together”, a hybrid event hosted by Department for International Trade (DIT) and JMD on March 2, seven all-round education and EdTech providers from the UK, and two STEM companies from China discussed the current status and future of the partnership in all-round education and EdTech between the two countries.

Experience of expanding into China

“2021 was a challenging year for education sector in China. Apart from global pandemic, we have also experienced local regulatory changes, which in fact, made us re-think the education that we provide to next generations. Hence, all-round education, a holistic approach to teaching and learning, has been addressed to greater attention,” Sohail Shaikh, Sector Director and Minister Counsellor of DIT, said in the welcome speech.

He said the strength of all-round education in the UK comes from a heavy focus on character development, leadership, and creativity.

In the UK, EdTech is one of the fastest-growing sectors, accounting for 4% of all digital companies (the same as Fintech), and schools spend over £900m a year on education technology, added he.

“The UK’s Education Technology initiatives are also re-evaluating the ways teachers assess the development of our children. They move away from only formative and summative methods to include valuable, cognitive assessment. These solutions are creating a ‘whole pupil view’. This approach links education with mental health and wellbeing, so teachers have a holistic understanding of their pupils’ development.”

Then all-round education providers from the UK and China, as well as officials from DIT and London & Partners, shared their experiences and suggestions on entering China and UK.

F1 in Schools, a STEM-based educational project launched in 2000, has landed in China for eight years. MEL Science, a London-based VR and AR science education provider, has partnered with several Chinese companies and also set up offices in China. Schools in eastern and midwestern China have adopted STEM educational solutions developed by Pearson. Blue-tooth coding education company SAM Labs said it had sold more than 3,000 products in China.

Music learning platform Charanga said its sales into the Chinese education market are sole to international schools. Wellbeing & Global Skills Projects introduced by Oxford University Press have also been used by international schools in China.

EdTech provider Juniper introduced Sonar Tracker, a student progress and assessment tracker. It targets international schools and bilingual schools.

The importance of seeking a local partner was stressed when they discussed how to grow the presence in China’s market.

“We have a local In Country Coordinator that is coordinating initial implementation,” said Nelson Vale, International Project Manager at F1 in Schools. “The growth of the challenge will depend on local support and how we can engage more local partners in more provinces.”

“I would only consider entering the market with a partner within China. In that partner, first and foremost is the importance of having a track record in supplying the All-Round Education and schools markets and being of a size that can adopt a truly joint venture approach,” said Mark Burke, Charanga’s Founder and Director. He added Charanga would reach and support teachers in areas that lack specialist music teachers.

Two Chinese STEAM education providers expressed their views.

Zhu Xuan, Founder of BitOrange Coding Space, a coding learning provider for children which has partnered with overseas competitions, said the partnership with these competitions has improved their teaching abilities and courses content iteration.

Makeblock, a Shenzhen-based STEAM education solution provider, has already expanded into several European markets. Gary Peter Jones, Sales Director at Makeblock Europe, it’s important to seek professional consultancy when launching into a new market. Based on experience in international market growth, the company said localization is key, successful products must differentiate from the competitors, and companies should work together to create a healthy environment.

Lesley Li, Vice President (South, China) at London & Partners, shared advice on entering the UK market, including communicating with DIT, understanding the UK education system, spotting a vertical area and key customers through detailed market research, as well as seeking a local partner with distribution channels or building a local team.

Potential for future cooperation

The regulatory environment in China would force companies who had intended to expand their business to China to wait and see. These UK STEM projects, whose offerings are supplemental to school education, are not affected by the regulation.

But they think there are still some issues that foreign education companies need to be aware of.

Product content and form must be paid attention to, especially for the education products related to academic tutoring, said Zheng Liangdong, STEM Curriculum Expert for Pearson. Overseas companies need to understand and respect the long-term logic behind the policy and then find the elements of your products and strategies that can react, said Liang Kai, BD Director at MEL Science.

Data privacy is another issue for foreign products to consider when they plan to make an entrant in China. “We will meet cross-border data compliance or localization requirements in accordance with China’s policies and customer needs,” said Wang Zhong, UK-China Links Manager for Juniper.

It is also critical to know what is happening in the changing Chinese education landscape. “I rely mainly on the Department for International Trade and a trade organisation in the UK called BESA for updates about China,” Burke at Charanga shared.

As for potential areas that the two sides can cooperate in all-round education, Qu Xin, Head of Schools and All-Round Education at DIT, shared five aspects: IP export, content development/curriculum design, faculty training, examination and evaluation system, as well as international competition and study tour. Many of them, especially content development and faculty training, are already included in these UK projects.

As a provider who has the experience and further needs to cooperate with overseas products, BitOrange said they hope to have more opportunities to communicate with British counterparts in terms of course products and teaching content.

These providers are all optimistic about further expanding into the Chinese education market in the future.

“We plan to localize all content and offer courses to public schools as soon as possible,” said Tan Sai, Head of Curriculum Design at Oxford University Press.

Juniper will offer web page interfaces in Chinese and English based on the market demand and is also considering looking for a partner to localize products.

“We at F1 in Schools want to reach as many provinces as possible making to distinction on the schools that can take part,” Vale said. B2B and B2C businesses of MEL Science are growing, Liang Kai said.

The first job for Charanga is to find a local partner, Burke said. For the very early groups, very little adaption is required, and the job is mainly one of translation and cultural adaptation.

“Education Technology enables us to develop better education, provide better all-round education solutions,” Shaikh said. “Education plays a key role in developing people-to-people links, and those people-to-people links are at the heart of the UK’s strong and dynamic relationship with China. I believe we will continue to learn from each other and share the best practice to drive up the provision of high-quality education collaborations. ”

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