Navigating the Education Space in China post COVID-19

Navigating the Education Space in China post COVID-19

Although the United States and other jurisdictions around the globe have begun discussions around loosening restrictions on physical distancing and public gatherings enacted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of international travel for the remainder of 2020 and beyond is uncertain. This could have an inordinately negative impact on post-secondary institutions in the West that depend on foreign enrollment—and the lucrative international student tuition fees associated therewith—as a major source of revenue. 

Almost 700 thousand Chinese students left the PRC to study abroad in 2018—the US, UK, Canada and Australia all among the top destinations. Given the current difficulties (read: impossibilities) of travelling to these countries, what effect will COVID-19 have on post-secondary institutions and Chinese international students in particular? 

The cost to institutions

A report by Moody’s Investors Service recently examined the financial impacts of lower than expected domestic and international student enrollment on six countries including Canada and the United States. It found that campus closures persisting until the end of 2020 will have billions of dollars in negative consequences to university budgets for the near and medium term. 

In Canada alone, tuition spent by international students amounted to nearly $6 billion in 2019. A survey conducted by Quacquarelli Symonds—a UK consultancy—found that more than half (54%) of international students slated to study in Canada intended to defer admission by a year. The American Council on Education (ACE) projected $23 billion in lost revenue from declining enrollment in a letter to the US House of Representatives earlier this month

Closures of universities and colleges result in loss of revenues over and above those associated with tution fees. The British organization Universities UK (UUK) says that the immediate financial impacts of loss of income from conferences, accommodation and catering total GBP 790 million. Included in this estimate are the additional costs of establishing infrastructure to allow students to continue their education online.

The virtual classroom

The most evident response in light of an inability to be in a physical classroom is a shift to virtual learning. Online offerings are not new to post-secondary institutions, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to accelerate the adoption of the virtual classroom. Apart from technical considerations related to delivering lesson plans, instructors will undoubtedly have to adjust their teaching methods to adjust to the new virtual reality. And while this presents an inconvenience to students and staff alike, a much larger hurdle exists for institutions looking to continue attracting Chinese students who might have to remain in their home country for the foreseeable future. 

The Great Firewall

China’s elite will likely continue encouraging their children to be educated by occidental universities thanks in part to the prestige that comes with it. But standard subject matter in Western institutions can be problematic in China and might be blocked by the country’s online censors. The education industry, from institutions to learning material providers, must take note of several factors in order to continue seizing opportunities presented by international students. 

Chief among these factors is obtaining an Internet Content Provider (ICP) License. ICP licenses—granted by the national Ministry of Industry and Information Technology—are required for organizations to operate digitally in China. These licenses allow companies and institutions to host their website in China, build trust from users, and be indexed by Baidu (China’s leading search platform). Navigating the Chinese bureaucracy in order to obtain an ICP license is not a simple task, but is a necessary one. 

Ensuring compliance to Chinese internet standards is another crucial consideration for those in the education industry. Sensitivities over historical events like Tiananmen Square and Japanese aggression in World War II, as well as territorial disputes over Taiwan and Tibet will be shut down by Chinese censors. What might be commonplace in a required history or geography course in a Western university could be deemed illegal and risks immediate revocation of a company’s ICP license. 

Don’t go it alone

The challenges in delivering post-secondary education from a Western institution to a student in mainland China are great. With a return to domestic normalcy still months away for some jurisdictions, a resumption of international travel augurs to be even farther away. Therefore, the time is now for the education industry to plan for ways to reach Chinese students where they are. Preparations must get underway as soon as possible to establish a legal presence in China and ensure that the high-quality education sought after by many Chinese citizens remains available. 

The complexity of this task cannot be understated, but it can be greatly simplified with the assistance of experts in the business of helping your organization thrive in China’s digital landscape. If your company wants to learn more about how it can plan for the future of learning now, contact info@wpic.co.