Private schools in China are reconsidering their future in light of challenges brought about by increased regulation, a slowing economy, and diminishing numbers of foreign students.

These international and private schools have faced pressure due to tighter rules imposed by the Chinese government. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many privately-run bilingual schools emerged, offering a Western exam curriculum. However, Beijing introduced new regulations in 2021, leading to disruptions in the private tutoring sector, which aimed to alleviate academic pressure on students and reduce family costs.

The impact of three years of the pandemic and slower economic growth has only exacerbated the difficulties faced by these institutions. Some believe that the private education sector is facing a decline, while others view it as going through growing pains. Dulwich College, which operates nine schools in China, including bilingual schools catering to Chinese nationals, has seen its strategic plans for high school growth scaled back due to evolving government regulations.

The challenges are not limited to private schools; international schools in China, which primarily admit students with foreign passports, have seen a decline in student numbers as many expatriates left China after the pandemic. Beijing's regulatory moves, including mandating that Chinese compulsory education be taught in private schools and limiting the number of private schools, have further strained the sector. New laws aimed at strengthening patriotic education are set to take effect in January 2024.

Moreover, geopolitical tensions have impacted the education landscape, leading to changes in English language requirements at universities and making China more inward-looking. The number of American students in China has declined significantly, but there has been an increase in students from Belt and Road countries.

In response to these challenges, many private education companies are considering selling their China-based assets. The education sector in China is currently witnessing more potential sellers than buyers. Schools and institutions are reassessing their strategies for attracting and retaining students in an evolving and challenging environment. Photo by Rex Pe, Wikimedia commons.