Evening Standard Interviews CEO of BE Education

Added on: 2017-10-27Share on :

As a stampede of burgeoning middle class in China look to grandeur of English public schools, the Evening Standard, a local newspaper in London with some of the largest reader population, published two news covering the young-age study abroad trend in China, after interviewing Mr William Vanbergen the founder of BE Education and some other well-known UK education experts.

Below are excerpted passages (with some slight changes) of Evening Standard news "Focus: Best of British as elite public schools tap up wealthy Chinese pupils" and "Firm selling British public schools to Chinese weighs London float ."

You may visit www.standard.co.uk to read the original article.



Eton College: the icon of elite education

The early evening dinner rush has hit Windsor's most popular Chinese restaurant, 1423 China Kitchen, situated in a small cobbled lane off the bustling High Street.Owner Ying Wang is busy seating two groups of tourists.


Ying, who hails from Dalian in northern China and has also been a tour guide in the UK for 12 years, opened the restaurant four months ago to cater for the busloads of Chinese visitors who descend on the picturesque town every week to visit Windsor Castle and, increasingly, Eton College, the public school founded by Henry VI in 1440. 



"They know Eton is unique and number one in the rankings," he says during a break in service. "One of the big reasons they come also is Prince William and Harry, they known they've been there.” 


The popularity of Eton underscores China's growing interest in the UK's private education system. British boarding schools — already well-known in Hong Kong — have gone from a standing start on the mainland to become icons of elite education. 



"Outstanding quality and a tradition of innovation"

Chinese parents Lily Wu and her husband, who live in Shanghai and did their masters in the UK , plan to enrol their 10-year-old at an independent school in the UK next September, and said British boarding schools were known for their "outstanding quality and a tradition of innovation". 


"In the UK, the courses of study focus on developing students with strong thinking. Children need to be taught to become active members of society and also be socialised," Wu says. "However, most schools only teach textbook knowledge in China, the so-called 'forced-feeding method of teaching'. Innovation and creativity are the most different points between Chinese and UK education systems." 



Names such as Eton, Harrow, Winchester and Westminster resonate with China's affluent middle class, who are prepared to spend big on their child's education. Images of Eton-educated Olympian equestrian sportsman Alex Hua Tian, a British citizen who has represented China, have helped bolster the "aristocratic" reputation of boarding schools. 



A growing awareness of the brand of British boarding schools in China

Mainland China is already the largest source of foreign-born pupils at British boarding schools, with numbers rising 10% last year to nearly 8000, according to the latest figures. With the end of China's one-child policy and increasing wealth across the nation, that figure is likely to rise over the next two decades.


"Before 2000, nobody had heard of British independent schools in China," says Barnaby Lenon, a former headmaster at Harrow and chairman of the Independent Schools Council, which compiled the figures. "They were always well-known in Hong Kong because it always had a large British population. Now there's a growing awareness of the brand of British boarding schools in China," he adds. 



However, the bigger draw for some schools, perhaps, is leveraging their name and setting up franchises in China.There are 15 campuses there run by UK independent schools, including a Harrow offshoot in Beijing.Harrow's international schools franchise, which also has sites in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok.


So why do it?


"They can develop pupil exchanges, it's great for global citizenship and you can develop a global alumni network," says Colin Bell, chief executive of the Council of British International Schools. "They want to future-proof themselves." 



Chinese-British love boosting the wider UK economy

Some also see this Chinese-British love-in boosting the wider UK economy as it tries to forge new trade and cultural links post-Brexit.


"It's a phenomenally good export; it doesn't just take revenues for itself, it also creates revenues for everything else in the economy," said William Vanbergen, founder of BE Education. Vanbergen is an old Etonian, who sat next to the Prince William for Latin and history, and added that sales were growing by 70% a year in China because of the world-class reputation of Britain's centuries-old system and the portrayal of public schools in books like Harry Potter.



"UK schools have got much bigger brands than the US. They've got a reputation, rightly or wrongly, probably due to Jane Austen and Harry Potter, for being these wonderful castle-like places that produce ladies and gentleman," he said. 


The entrepreneur set up BE in 2003 to tap into rising levels of prosperity in China after an early foray trying to export Aston Martins there.The company, which has offices in London and across China, helps arrange summer courses each year for hundreds of Chinese students at places such as Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse and Dulwich College. 


It also rolled out a franchise of UK boarding school Wycombe Abbey in Changzhou in eastern China and plans to launch six more schools across the country.


The enrolment boom has also helped London property and retail — with wealthy parents buying digs for their children and splashing out in the West End. But there are questions over the long-term benefit to the UK, with many Chinese students leaving Britain for top US universities and ultimately heading back to China. 


However, Vanbergen says Chinese children growing up here might also be more disposed to pro-British sentiment as they know the culture. "They can act as a bridge between the two countries going forward," he adds. 


If this looks like a rose-tinted view of UK schools, think again; the families who choose to send their offspring abroad are increasingly savvy about their choices, visiting schools and meeting headmasters, who regularly tour China. 



Back at the 1423, the rush has died down.

Ying says he sees no reason for a slowdown in Chinese demand for British education:"When they get the money they will look at what is most important to them and the number one thing is education. If there was no academic barrier to get into to Eton, 100% of the students would be Chinese. Even if you doubled the price."