Caixin
Nov 06, 2021 07:29 PM
CHINA

Prestigious British Private School Abandons Plan for Chinese Branches

The planned Chengdu Westminster School in Chengdu, Southwest China‘s Sichuan province. Photo: westminstercn.com
The planned Chengdu Westminster School in Chengdu, Southwest China‘s Sichuan province. Photo: westminstercn.com

One of the U.K.’s most prestigious private schools, has abandoned its plan to set up branches in China after new education rules erected further barriers for foreign participation in the education sector.

On Tuesday, Westminster School announced it would not open a 2,000-pupil school in Chengdu, Southwest China’s Sichuan province, which would have been the first of six offshoots under a 2017 plan to enter the Chinese market.

The project had been brought to an end due to the global Covid-19 pandemic as well as “recent changes in Chinese education policy,” Mark Batten, chair of the school’s governing body, said in a letter to staff and students.

“It is with great regret I write to tell you that this project has come to an end for Westminster School,” he said, noting that “the landscape for developing such schools now is very different from 2017.”

London’s Westminster School traces its history back nearly 900 years and commands annual fees which can exceed 43,000 pounds ($57,980). About half of its graduating students go on to attend Oxford or Cambridge universities every year.

According to the plan, six schools using the Westminster name were to be established by 2028. Batten’s letter explain that the school had established a subsidiary that was working with a Hong Kong-based investor which was to operate the Chinese mainland schools.

Chengdu Westminster was set to open in 2020, but its opening had been postponed several times.

Batten noted that “the formation of a brand new 2,000-pupil school, including the construction of all its buildings and the development of a bilingual curriculum for children aged 3 to 18, is no small undertaking” and the pandemic and China’s education reform created “numerous financial and logistical challenges.”

Though there had been “a number of attempts by the operator to restructure and refinance the operations,” this ultimately proved “not to be possible,” he said.

“All development work has been halted both in terms of the site and curriculum, and staff who had been working there are no longer to be employed by the operator,” he added.

The Westminster subsidiary involved in the project reported a loss of 149,000 pounds in 2019 and a loss of 76,000 pounds in the first half of last year, according to Global Database, citing the company’s financial reports.

In recent months, several international schools have faced difficulties with their Chinese operations. Shrewsbury School, one of the oldest schools in England, has terminated the operation of its Shanghai branch, Caixin learned.

In late October, authorities in Luoyang, Central China’s Henan province, issued a notice on the renaming of five international schools, such as changing the name of Luoyang International School to Luoyang Lisi Experimental School.

New regulations (link in Chinese) taking effect in September ban foreign invested enterprises and social institutions whose actual controllers are foreign parties from participating in or controlling primary and middle schools in the country. The regulations also bar these schools from using overseas textbooks.

In August, Beijing banned some private schools offering courses on the country’s core curriculum from enrolling new students.

Westminster’s departure from China shows the crackdown has impacted the expansion of international private schools. Industry insiders said although established schools may continue to operate in China, the prospect of new schools opening in future remains unclear.

British schools may slow their expansion in China while expanding their presence in other Asian countries such as Singapore and Thailand, insiders said.

Currently, 66 institutions affiliated with British schools have opened in China, most of which are bilingual private schools open to citizens born in the country, according to data from educational consultancy ISC Research.

Contact reporter Wang Xintong (xintongwang@caixin.com) and editor Joshua Dummer (joshuadummer@caixin.com)

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