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Matthew Brooker

We Don’t Need No (British) Education in China

Beijing’s new curriculum requirements sit uncomfortably with the concept of a Western liberal school system, leaving the sector’s future looking bleak.

Communist values.

Communist values.

Photographer: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg

These aren’t great days to be in the international school business in China. Teachers are leaving, and getting visas for replacements is difficult. Those that remain are contending not only with the threat or actuality of Covid lockdowns, but with increased scrutiny amid an atmosphere of tightened regulation and rising nationalism. After a decade of explosive growth, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the outlook.

Harrow Beijing being forced to drop the British name of its bilingual school is just the latest sign of the cooling climate for foreign education providers. That branding is an essential part of the value proposition for Chinese parents looking to set their children on track for admission to prestigious overseas universities. The 450-year-old Harrow is among the most famous of British schools, having educated seven U.K. prime ministers including the most celebrated of all, Winston Churchill (albeit he was reputedly a bad student while there). Lide, the bilingual school’s new name, doesn’t have quite the same resonance.