Sean Wall lives in Beijing and is the deputy managing director of DHL-Sinotrans. His son Brendon, 10, attends the Western Academy of Beijing (WAB), chosen because it is close to home. Mr Wall, whose firm pays for his son's schooling, thinks school fees in the mainland are among the highest in Asia. Fees in Beijing and Shanghai, for instance, can run as high as 180,000 yuan a year at secondary level. 'We used to live in Indonesia, and the value for money there compared with China was much better,' Mr Wall said. 'There are many new schools here now but it seems they are mostly run as businesses. The general feeling is that standards are lower than at the WAB or International School of Beijing (ISB). And some schools have long waiting lists, which reduces quality.' But schools say their fees reflect the level of education being offered and are fair. They have to have high fees to pay high salaries to attract the best teachers. While foreigners, many of whom do not receive expatriate packages and may not necessarily be earning high salaries, struggle to find affordable education, the number of schools is growing. But the talk among schools is not only about serving the foreign community. Like numerous other foreign enterprises before them, they have their eyes on the local market, when it opens. 'It is a frontier right now,' said John Stadler, editor-in-chief of the recently launched Stadler's Education Guide to Beijing and Shanghai. 'China is a real hotspot. The growth rate for international schools is about 15 per cent a year.' Estimates suggest that Beijing and Shanghai already have 26,000 foreign students between them, and there are many expatriate children in other cities. As in any education system, the quality of programmes and resources varies. Fritz Libby, co-founder of Dulwich College Schools in China, said: 'This has the potential to bring down the reputation of international education in China.' It would soon be possible to 'see a clear line of distinction between the schools that have truly invested in programmes and staff and those that have not'. There was much discussion in the international school sector as to when they would be allowed to admit mainland students. 'If this happens, higher quality schools with established names will be the ones most desired by Chinese families,' he said. Some were being 'creative' and had already figured out ways of doing so - by teaming up with existing Chinese schools. 'For now, mostly, this can only be done at the kindergarten level and at the senior high school level,' Mr Libby said. But he warned of problems involving guangxi once the floodgates do open. 'How many will be introduced to your school through business relationships you have had to develop in order to establish your school in China?' he said. Stewart Fry, chairman of the two-year-old British School of Beijing, said: 'Chinese pupils were part of the lure of coming to China.' He hopes locals will soon be free to attend international schools, even though his school does not yet have places for them. Many educationalists hope that if mainlanders were, in theory at least, able to attend an international school, schools would enrol the best students rather than open their gates to the highest bidders. If the latter happened, this would drive away many expats, at least initially, according to one school head, who asked not to be named. Dr Francis Pang is chairman of the board of the new Capital International School, which will offer the Canadian curriculum when it opens on September 1. He said the Chinese government was still keen to attract international schools and had even provided land for the school, in downtown Beijing, for free. Another development, Dr Pang said, related to Chinese schools with foreign students. Several thousand, including many Indonesians, Japanese and South Koreans, already attended Chinese schools. He expected these schools to compete with international schools for the expatriate market, providing places for those who could not afford the latter. 'Thanks to the one-child policy there are more places in many Chinese schools than pupils,' Dr Pang said. 'In Beijing there are 140,000 middle school places, but only 120,000 students. 'Three to four years from now that will be 80,000 students, but schools will want to fill their capacity so will aim to attract more international students. Competition will really heat up between international and local schools.' Other experts disagree, saying most foreigners would not be interested in Chinese schools because of the difference in education systems. Japanese mother-of-three Yoko Yamato lives in Shanghai and does freelance research for the Comparative Education Research Centre at the University of Hong Kong. Even though she is more in the know than most parents, she said it was still not easy choosing the right school. 'The classification of schools is in chaos. Some are traditional pure international schools, some are not. Some are really just like language schools,' she said. 'Parents need to be cautious and should know the managing body, the curriculum and many other factors well before they decide where to send their children.'