The education demands of China are continuing to grow inline with the ongoing development of the economy. As demonstrated in previous articles, Australia has succeeded in attracting a range of Chinese university students over the past decade and this has continued to grow, although at much smaller levels than in previous periods. China still remains the most important education market for Australian Universities. But are Australian education institutions reaching the opportunities inherent in the Chinese market?

I have been visiting China for the best part of 15 years, and have travelled north and south, east and west in this vast country. In the past five years I have visited China on average about 4 times a year for between 7-12 weeks in total, often times working for Australian universities and education institutions on opportunities in this large market. I have had the opportunity of working with a range of Universities in China including; Nankai University, Xiamen University, Yunnan University, Fudan University, Central University of Finance and Economics, and the University of International Business and Economics. In addition to these universities I have had the chance to work with a range of education agents in Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Guangzhou, Kunming and Tianjin. In all of these instances I have witnessed first hand the changing market conditions in China for education. No longer is China a market that seeks to export its best and brightest to Australia, US, and UK for University education.

China has developed at an incredible rate over the past three decades and the east coast of China particularly has developed to a point where the cities are comparable to most cities in the developed world. In other parts of China there is still the constant development of the economy. What this means however is that there is a changing demand for education services as Chinese people seek to become equipped for the global economy of the 21st century. Being equipped for the global economy means having an international orientation, but also being able to succeed in China. Its important to remember that just as many international companies view China as being a huge market of opportunity as a consequence of its huge population, so too do Chinese business people view China as the most important market for them to be involved. If international education institutions are to take advantage of China then this is an important point to remember.

So where are the emerging education market opportunities in China?

The growing demand for education services in China can be classed in three sectors:

1.     Childhood learning

o   Early Childhood Learning (English language programs)

o   Primary School Learning(English language and feeder programs to Australian Secondary education programs)

o   Secondary School Programs (English language programs)

2.     Vocational Training

o   Australian Certified TVET training programs (in China)

o   Australian Certified TVET training programs (in Australia)

o   English Language programs

3.     University education

o   Undergraduate programs (in Australia)

o   Postgraduate masters programs (in China)

The opportunities for training in Australia have already been identified by most education institutions, however there is an argument to be made that we have not reached anywhere near the potential attraction of students for Secondary School programs in Australia, and certified TVET programs.  One of the biggest challenges for these programs in Australia is English language proficiency, which makes it difficult for native Chinese language speakers to learn technical skills in English. This has been a problem around Asia. To put it in another context, it would be the equivalent of an Australian electrician apprentice traveling to Beijing to undertake technical training in is just too hard. So how do we overcome these challenges?  

Developing in-China English language training is the key to further growing Australian exports of education services. This can be achieved from early childhood learning, where there is already a rapidly expanding demand for kindergartens teaching the children in English, through to developing in-country vocational training programs conducted in Chinese, perhaps through translation with Australian instructors. There will continue to be a demand for education services in China, however the largest demand is certainly for in-China education service delivery. If you are an education institution and are not developing a strategy for at least partial in-china delivery for your international student attraction, then you are probably missing out on one of the fastest growing education segments in the world.

Dr Nathan Gray is Managing Partner of AsiaAustralis – a strategic management advisory firm that specialises in markets throughout Asia. Over the past three decades our consultants have assisted companies achieve their market objectives in Asia.