Market for English courses surges

Updated: 2013-10-24 07:50

By Wang Hongyi in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Chinese parents are not afraid to dream big when it comes to their children's futures - talk of Yale, Harvard and other prestigious overseas universities can begin when the child is still in kindergarten.

Many can now afford to make such dreams a reality, which has led to a boom in demand for English language training and exam preparation courses.

Market for English courses surges

A foreign teacher assists her students during an English class at a summer camp in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. Meng Delong / for China Daily

According to the Ministry of Education's National Education Development Statistical Bulletin, the market is already worth about 30 billion yuan ($4.9 billion), and is growing at a rate of 15 percent year-on-year.

"Chinese parents lavish money on their children, and they are spending more on their education," said Ma Linjie, who has run Lyn Education, a private English training center in Shanghai, since 2010.

"English training has existed for a long time, and the market is relatively stable," she said. "But one record-breaking year after another in terms of Chinese studying abroad has driven growth."

Last year 399,600 Chinese went abroad to study, an increase of 17.65 percent on 2011, the Ministry of Education said. Between 1978 and the end of 2011, China sent 2.25 million students overseas, 90 percent of those after 2000, and from 2000 to 2010, annual growth was 28.2 percent.

Today, China is the largest exporter of students, accounting for 14 percent of the world's total, according to a report jointly released last year by the Center for China and Globalization and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The resulting demand in English language training has seen Chinese and foreign companies scramble for a share of the market, with centers springing up in most malls in large cities, as well as in other commercial districts.

Wall Street English, owned by global education group Pearson, has been in China since 2000 and has about 62,000 students enrolled at 66 locations nationwide. It has more than 240,000 alumni.

"China really is a center of excellence for Pearson in terms of English-language learning," said Global CEO David Kedwards. "Because of our scale we have the ability to do things other companies can't do, and because of China's scale we have the opportunity here to be the pathfinder and to refine new ideas for use in the WSE network around the world."

The company will continue to open three to six new centers annually in China for the next three to five years, he said, adding that student numbers are growing at about 5 percent a year.

"We will invest significantly in online capabilities to ensure our students can continue learning conveniently and on any device, such as smartphones and tablets," he said.

Bill Fisher, China CEO of Education First, said his company is focusing on second- and third-tier cities this year, with plans to open 45 to 50 branches, as well as to develop more products that utilize technology.

In addition to the swelling in numbers, the age of Chinese students going overseas is becoming younger. Many now skip the national college entrance exam, particularly those at top high schools.

Open Doors 2012, a report published last year by the Institute of International Education with support from the US State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, said there had been a 31 percent increase over the previous year in Chinese students enrolling at undergraduate level.

Consequently, training and preparation for overseas study, such as for the English-language TOEFL test and the US college admission exam, the SAT, have become popular.

A source at New Oriental Education, China's largest English training company, said the number of students receiving SAT training rises 20 to 30 percent every year.

An industry insider also estimated there are about 25,000 to 30,000 SAT prep students nationwide, mostly in their first or second year of high school.