China’s quest to increase birth rates continues to gather momentum in Beijing. It is now officially okay to have three children in China, coupled with a raft of new policies in the hope of reducing the cost and pain points of having children. Half a million new low-cost childcare places will be added across 150 cities and primary and middle schools will have to extend the school day by at least two hours five days a week to reflect the needs of working parents.
One of the big losers from the new rules and regulations is China’s previously flourishing tutoring industry. Once a darling of China’s investor scene, the $100 billion education tech sector has clearly fallen out of favour with Beijing. Companies that teach the school curriculum have been banned from making profits, raising capital or going public. All vacation and weekend tutoring related to the school syllabus is now off-limits. Teaching kids below six years of age is forbidden too.
On the surface, it appears that the crackdown will reduce its allure for both tutor providers and parents, particularly as it accounts for a large share of the 31 hours a week that the average 3-15 year old student spends doing homework and extracurricular classes. This may lower societal expectations of after-school tutoring, lessening one of the key inhibitors and costs of having more children.
Yet the list of new regulations also illustrates the increasingly sensitive direction that Beijing is taking to foreign influences in Chinese education. The rules state that foreign firms are banned from acquiring or holding shares in school curriculum tutoring institutions. In addition, agencies cannot teach foreign curriculums or hire foreigners outside of China to teach – at a time where it is very challenging to get into China as a foreigner.
The outcomes of these new rules are likely to further increase patriotism at a grassroots level, with kids’ learning being more China-centric than ever. Yet the other side of the coin may see more Chinese studying overseas … when they finally can. Parents in China – while becoming more patriotic – are much more open-minded than they were a generation ago. As a result, many are likely to believe that the different perspectives from an overseas education will make their kids more well-rounded and resilient, for a future that needs them to be moreso than ever.
The world benefits from more kids studying abroad. It will open their minds and increase their understanding and acceptance of other cultures and ways of doing things. Similarly, foreign teachers, who are among the largest source of westerners in China, help build awareness about China in the West, which is good for everyone.
For brands, more Chinese studying abroad builds awareness and affinities with foreign lifestyles, products and services. This comes from both the students themselves, and their networks watching their social feeds vicariously from China. The daigou trade, although more regulated and industrialised than ever, will see a bump when Chinese are studying abroad in numbers again. With visiting friends and relatives one of the big draw cards for Chinese tourists in many destinations, the tourism trade also benefits from foreign students.
No one really knows when borders will open up again and students can get back to their adventures studying abroad. Let’s hope it is soon – not just for the universities’ coffers and the halo effect on brands, but also for a mutual understanding between Chinese and Western culture which has diminished since the pandemic began.
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