What’s Next for China’s Education Industry? Venture Education’s Top 10 Trends for 2023

By Julian Fisher and Zhubei

Venture Education is a Beijing-based consultancy that provides market intelligence on K12 education in China to organizations worldwide. This quarter, we asked Venture’s co-founders, Julian Fisher and Zhubei, to share their top five trends that will shape the industry in 2023. Fisher will provide an industry perspective, while Zhubei will focus on the needs of students and their families.

Photo courtesy of YCYW

Julian Fisher’s Top Five

1. Vocational Education Drive

When the Chinese government drives an idea, you know that it will move forward. Vocational education is the word on everyone’s lips this year as the country looks to upskill its labor force and follow the models set by northern European countries for well-educated, well-equipped and, importantly, well-respected vocational student body. Students who score within the lowest 50% in the middle school exams will now compulsorily take a vocational path and key answers will be needed this year: Can enough high quality trainers be developed? Are there any sustainable financial models for foreign operators to engage in the space? Can vocational education align with the increasingly niche demands of next generation technology?

2. Chinese International Education

Three years of Zero-COVID have forever shifted China’s relationship with international education and the future direction of travel seems far more defined. The government will continue to encourage international students to study in China, and global universities to set up joint partnerships and institutions within its borders. This will likely impact the number of students studying overseas in the longer term [see trend number 6] but it is also part of a wider goal for China to become an exporter of education. China’s first state-sanctioned school outside the country opened in Dubai in 2020 and Xiamen University Malaysia has been running since 2014. A considerable number of education programs and partnerships are underway along Belt and Road countries and will make more noise in 2023.

3. New Metrics of Assessment

The “General Program for Deepening Educational Evaluation Reform in the New Era Oct. 2020” suggested that from kindergarten to higher education the focus should be on talent cultivation rather than quantitative indicators. In K12 education, measures have been taken, such as discontinuing the ranking of students in classes, and there has been debate about the possible downsides of the all-consuming gaokao exam in the lives of high school students. Last year saw Renmin University, Nanjing University and Lanzhou University and a number of others withdraw from international rankings. As institutions and the government push back against overseas metrics, expect domestic alternatives that reflect Chinese characteristics.

4. K12 Challenges

It has been an extremely challenging three years for the private K12 sector in China with the pandemic, online learning, and the loss of large numbers of foreign teachers and students. The number of schools for foreign passport holders, especially those in unfinished “innovation zones” on the outskirts of major cities, seems certain to drop. Private schools for Chinese nationals, that boomed alongside the new property developments they helped sell, were hit hard by the Private Education Law in 2021 and the sector is still reeling. While opening up may ease some ills, and regulatory clarity allows for more certainty, 2023 will be about the sector getting back on its feet.

5. Sustainability Matters

Schools and universities have the capacity to influence thousands of young minds towards a better future and sustainability and environmental protection are a key area where all stakeholders, from students to country leaders, can align. While grassroots initiatives will empower students and teachers, 2023 may also be the year where the government pilots its own sustainability best practices and policies for educational institutions to follow; likely promoting pragmatic cost-cutting green initiatives, the development of green technologies, and national benchmarks.

Julian Fisher has been working in education in China for 18 years; first coming as part of the founding team of a new international school. He leads the consultancy arm of Venture that supports international schools, universities and education organisations to thrive in China. He is also Vice Chair of the British Chamber of Commerce in China and Chair of the Chamber’s Education Forum. He is also a mentor for Durham University, former president of the Beijing Metropolitan Entrepreneurs’ Organization.

Photo courtesy of Venture Education

Zhubei has worked in education between schools, parents, and students for over 15 years. Believing that parents’ mindset is the key to children’s healthy development and meeting their full potential, she has devoted her energy to lead positive change in parenting through talks, interviews, and workshops across China. She was a judge for the China School Awards 2023 for Holistic Education, and writes a weekly column on education and parenting in the Economic Observer. She is also Chair of the Educating Girls of Rural China Beijing committee.

Photo courtesy of Venture Education

Zhubei’s Top Five

6. Study Abroad Headwinds

While the number of students studying overseas for higher education has grown continually, there may be clouds on the horizon. Many parents are wary of the impact geopolitical shifts will have on their child’s future university path, countries move in and out of fashion, three years of travel restrictions have raised anxiety, pressure to attend “top universities” continues to increase, and the return on investment of an overseas education is continually discussed. This might not be a challenge in the short term as many students are already committed to the overseas education path, but for new parents the question is simple: “Should I commit to putting my child into an English speaking or bilingual kindergarten if I intend for them to stay in China for their entire educational journey?” And if the answer is “no”, then the impact of that decision will be felt in eighteen years’ time. The numbers from this year will start to paint a picture of where things are heading in the future.

7. Parental Balance

On a positive note, although the double reduction may have depleted the tutoring sector, a great number of former tutors have now shifted their focus to providing all-round or family education services, which can be operated legally. There are an increasing number of online courses and discussions working with parents on how to improve their relationship with their children (though some are still trapped in the damaging cycle of “how to manipulate your child effectively so they will study hard happily”). It is a positive progress to see a higher level of awareness of mental wellbeing among children; in no small part because these parents themselves are starting to question their own work-life balance after so many years of grind. The balance parents continue to struggle with is finding equilibrium between being emotionally supportive and academically pushy. Expect there to be a gradual shift in the way parents talk about their children, about education, and what a meaningful life really means over time.

8. Employability

A survey with employers from LinkedIn China on “Soft skills companies need but have a hard time finding” shared the top five skills in high demand relative to their supply as: creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and time management. Students in China often grow up being asked to focus heavily exclusively on grades, and in many cases their daily and weekly schedules are decided by parents or schools. Meaningful work experience is undervalued, students hobbies and personal interests are side-lined, and side hustles are often discouraged. This does not support the development of the above mentioned soft skills and these gaps will become more acute as the Chinese economy continues to develop. With nearly 20% youth unemployment, both schools and universities are scrambling to find practical and genuinely impactful ways to better prepare young people for the world of work.

9. Finding a Niche

Last year, Venture Education ran a series of events across China for school-based university counsellors and parents supporting children to study overseas. The most frequently mentioned demands from admission officers were “genuine interest”, “authenticity”, and “maturity”. A former admission officer from the University of Chicago I recently interviewed said, “Sending offers to students is like sending invitations to a family dinner banquet, you want to invite those who are unique and interesting people as individuals, but also being able to get along with other guests”. Hearing from both higher education and employers, young people who will succeed need to develop their soft skills and choose majors that make them want to wake up in the morning.

10. Special Educational Needs

Special education needs (SEN) for children in China is still very much a taboo, unless the child is clearly affected with severe symptoms. Very few parents understand the concept or see the need to assess their child if they are facing challenges in school; and there is a huge lack of affordable access to assessing, understanding, and providing tools to children with special education needs. Parents often treat SEN as a barrier that their child should be able to overcome if they try hard enough, refuse to discuss any issues in public or with their school, and feel that the situation is a curse rather than meeting their children where they are. Mental health, special educational needs, trauma, and other aspects of childhood development are increasingly becoming part of a wider discussion about parenting and education.

If you’re interested in learning more about Venture Education, please connect with Julian and Zhubei


This article is from the AmCham China Quarterly Magazine (Issue 1, 2023). To access the entire publication for free, sign up on our member portal here.