What do you do when the enrolments of your 432-year-old school plummet?
This was the dilemma faced by the board of UK day and boarding school St Bees back in 2015. Despite a massive public campaign at the time to resurrect its future and the presence of the school’s most famous old boy Rowan Atkinson at their final prize assembly, the school reluctantly closed its doors to students.
So was it the scrap-heap of failure for this once-proud institution?
In an outcome that will leave most Australian educators incredulous, the school’s “brand” was still considered so valuable that the China-based Full Circle Education Group formed a joint venture with St Bees that led to the UK school being re-opened in 2018 with two new “St Bees China” schools also under construction in Shijiazhuang and Dongguan, with projected enrolments in excess of 2000 students.
The three schools will teach a common Fusion curriculum to form a global entity that will enable a seamless transition for pupils across the schools.
The St Bees case study provides an excellent demonstration of the insatiable appetite that exists in China for a traditional British education. The Financial Times (October 2019) reports that more than 40% of the 70,000 UK boarders are non-British and that 44% of those are from China and Hong Kong (a 70% increase in 5 years). With almost 1000 international schools in China, most are UK brands, with perhaps one or two possessing Australian connections.
It is difficult for Australian educators to come to terms with the Chinese education landscape. It can be complex and confusing compared to what they are used to, particularly now that the national Chinese government is implementing new regulations to prepare their students more adequately for the future.
Here at GlobalEdCo, we are currently identifying opportunities for investors to provide education for Chinese students and teachers in both China and Australia. We recently returned from a visit to Guangzhou where we were literature sponsors at the 5th Annual International and Bilingual Schools China Conference as well as meeting with several key players in the Chinese sector that have provided us with insights and connections to this complex and intriguing market.