Embrace your inner Beckham.

Why now is the time to embrace China’s enthusiasm for education exports

It happened. I sat, dinner for one, in the hotel restaurant and had quietly observed a table of four Chinese middle-class people having a great time. They drank and toasted, ordering copious amounts of food I couldn’t recognise. They caught my lonely gaze and came over, en masse. ‘David Beckham!’

My wife assures me I don’t look like him. Two hours and too many toasts later, I pondered, years ago it would have been Bobby Charlton. Bobby probably didn’t make it to China and China couldn’t wait for him. They are skipping generations and learning curves with an acceleration and appetite not seen before.

They bypassed observing the best of the beautiful English game during its simple and low-glamour heyday and went straight to buying some of its glitzier* clubs, Wolves, Birmingham, West Bromwich Albion.

Education is no different. A market of £191bn in 2016, set to be £340bn in 2020 (Deloitte) and 661 bilingual schools. It’s easy to throw market figures around for China that startle and seduce in equal measure.

But for UK companies seeking to derive benefit from its insatiable demand for British education and English language learning, it requires a patient and a focused approach. We need to understand that the scale is different and teaching is different, see Jocelyn Wang’s article.

“ It will happen. 150 million Chinese learning English online can’t be wrong – even if their pronunciation is not yet perfect ”

My conference speech over, I had barely sat down and was presented with over twenty business cards of active investors seeking to acquire UK education assets and transfer knowledge back to China.

And it’s happening. Full Circle Education have acquired St Bees in Cumbria and Princes College. Sailing Capital acquired Astrum Education and Achieve Education snapped up Chase Grammar back in 2015. Now it’s happening in publishing, as we explain on the article “A silk road for language”.

It will happen. 150 million Chinese learning English online can’t be wrong – even if their pronunciation is not yet perfect. Hujiang is a Chinese unicorn company and its unbelievable growth suits the mythical animal status of such edtech successes. (see on page 4)

Our supplement gives some insight into the emerging companies and trends in ELT in China. Embrace your inner Beckham, (David or Victoria) be an ambassador for the sector and get out there.


*Declaration: Only West Bromwich Albion is a glitzy and proper football club.