Caixin reports that as the number of Chinese high school graduates study abroad in a foreign university rises—up 14 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year—so does the number of Chinese applicants for international schools. The boom has prompted the founding of many new private schools, as well as international divisions in existing elite public schools.
It is no wonder, given how existing international schools have struggled to select students from a growing pool of applicants. When Beijing No.4 Middle School first opened its international division, every applicant with enough for tuition could secure a spot, but now the school can only admit ten percent. Another middle school with an international division affiliated with Beijing Normal University echoed the same, stating that their 60 spots were coveted by 600 applicants.
Private schools that can admit Chinese students have also noticed the boom, where Keystone Academy stated their fall 2016-2017 spots were all filled up by February 2016—more than six months before the start of the school year!
It has come to a point where international schools have had to higher their standards, giving and requiring more tests from its applicants in order to lower their pool. Where two years ago only five international schools required international standardized tests, such as TOEFL/TOEFL Junior or SSAT/SAT, now over fifty international schools require an official standardized test score upon application.
More stringent requirements are not the only changes international schools have made, but the cost of tuition has also been raised up to RMB 300,000 a year, where a few thousand will suffice for public school education with the domestic curriculum.
Why a boom?
Previously, only wealthy Chinese families would enroll their children in an international school or a school following an international curriculum. The reason was to avoid the stressful and highly competitive gaokao exam (university entrance exams) in favor of a foreign university degree.
Today, not only are there more wealthy Chinese, but the middle class is also prepared to invest in their children’s K-12 education. Parents are better educated, and as a result, understand the differences between eastern and western education. They (reasonably) have concerns about how their children will fare in university with the Chinese educational background of route learning and test taking. Hence, Chinese students aiming to study abroad are increasingly often enrolling in international schools to prepare for admissions.
The Center for China and Globalization (an NGO in Beijing) conducted research, surveying five elite middle schools where 75 percent of their top students chose to go study in a foreign university. Since said students could have applied and just as well made it into China’s top universities, there is some concern that not only is China losing its young top talent, but these students often do not return.
While many will state that an education reform will solve China’s “brain drain”, but no one believes in the 2009 instituted ten year reform. The reform had promised to cut red tape and improve equal access to education, the latter of which tends to be poorly received by parents in urban cities.
Earlier this spring, The Ministry of Education announced a quota of 140,000 spaces—a record number—in top universities for students from less developed provinces. The schools would not increase the number of overall spaces, but would instead reduce the number of local students it could intake by 6.5 percent.
Outrage ensued as urban parents took to the streets, protesting with signs and marches outside government offices. The protests had been contained by police and local news reports were largely censored as education is a sensitive topic in President Xi’s “China Dream” vision. After all, the class inequality between urban and rural provinces in educational opportunities could spark larger protests.
In Beijing, parents have filed a complaint requesting that gifted minority children recruited for Beijing’s elite schools should not be treated as residents for university application. Instead, their potential study spaces should be freed up for local children (with Beijing hukou, or residence).