Testing time for western investors

money-glitz | Staff reporter 22 Nov 2021

Top western schools with campuses in China are feeling the heat amid a state crackdown on the education sector with an historic British public school abandoning plans to set up schools across the nation.

Westminster School had launched plans to open a school in Chengdu back in 2017, which would be first of six such schools in China. Construction of the Chengdu Westminster School started in 2019 with plans to enroll 2,000 students between the ages of three and 18 last fall.

Rodney Harris, the former deputy head of Westminster and founding headmaster of the school, had promised to introduce the world-renowned Westminster-style education to Chengdu in an article on the school's website in May.

But earlier this month, the institution it has scrapped a plan to open six academies in China by 2028 due to the pandemic and "recent changes in Chinese education policy."

All 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, it said.

Westminster's departure comes after a Chinese law barring foreign-controlled entities from participating in compulsory education or schools from grade one to grade nine came into effect on September 1. The law also banned the teaching of all foreign curricula in these schools and demanded that all the non-state schools should "uphold the leadership of the Communist Party" and all the decision-making body members of these schools be Chinese nationals.

It is highly unfortunate the landscape for developing such schools now is very different from 2017, said chairman Mark Batten, adding that Westminster has no plans to license its name or provide educational consultancy to any other new schools in China.

It is unclear whether or how many other prestigious foreign schools with campuses in China will follow Westminster's move in the future. Schools that are already operating may stay but it would be foolish for someone to start out fresh now, a UK education industry watcher told the Financial Times.

As of January this year, there were 907 international schools accredited by the Chinese government, among which 535 were non-state international schools and 55 from the 27 British private academic institutions, including an international school set up by Dulwich College in 2003, according to Radio France Internationale.

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