China is penning laws on educational collaboration between mainland and overseas institutions as it prepares to open its education market to the world, a senior education official said. A draft of the legislation would be completed shortly, said Guan Jian, assistant to the director-general of the Ministry of Education's department of international co-operation and exchanges, who was a speaker at the US-China Education Co-operation Conference held in Beijing this week. The three-day conference, attended by academics and education service providers from the mainland and the US, preceded a large-scale education fair on study in the US this weekend at Beijing's International Hi-tech Convention and Exhibition Centre. Mr Guan declined to give details about the draft, except to say that it would provide a favourable environment for overseas operators. He told the conference that China was most keen to collaborate with overseas institutions, for example through joint-degree programmes, or educational institutes. Direct funding investment would be welcome but foreigners would not be allowed to operate on their own in the mainland. The Beijing municipal education commission said there were 71 institutes run jointly with foreign or Hong Kong partners providing vocational or academic training for more than 20,000 students in the Chinese capital. There were 657 collaborative projects in China last year, many held with US institutions on a short-term basis, including teacher exchanges. They helped to improve standards of education and bring in advanced teaching methods, said Mr Guan. But demand remained great for joint-degree programmes at both degree and postgraduate levels, he said. 'We should encourage more of these so we can import overseas curriculums and have more foreign teachers. This will be useful for promoting bilingual education and also help us ease the problem of inadequate university places.' He added that overseas input was also important to bring higher education in China more closely in touch with developments in the global market. China had told the World Trade Organisation (WTO) that it was not prepared to open its distance education, or special fields such as diplomacy, military studies, theology, and primary and junior high school studies covered by its nine-year compulsory education policy to foreign competitors. But Mr Guan said: 'The market is vast out there, from kindergarten, senior high school to university.' Academics from institutions including Harvard, the University of California at Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology talked on university management, services for students and educational technology at the conference organised by the Beijing United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation Association. Other conference participants called for internationalisation, including strengthened English language training at various levels. 'There is a great interest in the business community and in the government to teach and learn English, strengthened by China's entry into the World Trade Organisation and even more so the Olympic Games. There needs to be a lot of investment in teacher training,' said Robert DiYanni, director of international services, advanced placement programme of the College Board, the US-based organisation connecting students with colleges and universities worldwide. Wen Guo-wei, manager of a company running schools in Dalian, said: 'There is a need to improve English learning in secondary schools. The fundamental issue is the lack of good, practical teaching materials. Some teachers hired from abroad are not qualified either.'