Why Chinese parents are sending their children abroad to study at a younger age

Parents are turning to overseas kindergartens as well as public and private high schools in search of a broad education for their children

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 March, 2015, 4:41pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 12:49pm

Cen Qingcai, a retired resident of Shanghai, wanders among the stalls of foreign universities and middle schools at the Shanghai East Asia Exhibition Hall, looking for an ideal destination for his 12-year-old granddaughter to study abroad.

“My granddaughter is studying French at the distinguished Shanghai Foreign Language School. She spends all of her time on her studies and the school puts pressure on its students. Our family hopes to send her to a school where she does not need to worry so much about her academic scores,” the old man said.

Cen said the family could afford the tuition and living costs in foreign countries – which range from 150,000 yuan to 300,000 yuan (HK$190,000 to HK$360,000) per year. As she already attended a boarding school, she was prepared for studying abroad.

Tired of an education system that relentlessly focuses on academic scores at the expense of pupil’s overall development, a growing number of Chinese families are preparing to send their children abroad, even at a young age, for the sake of a broader education.

Alex Zou, CEO of Vancouver Public Education Alliance, which assists Chinese pre-Grade 12 pupils studying at public schools in Canada’s British Columbia province, said his client base had doubled in each of the past few years. Most of the children study at high schools, but younger ones are sent to junior schools or even kindergartens, he said.

“High school students we serve only need to pay about C$24,000 (HK$150,000) a year, including tuition and board, which can easily be covered by many Chinese families,” Zou said. “I think studying in Canada has become an ‘education for ordinary people’.”

He said more parents are not content with China’s basic education that values students merely by their academic performances but generally neglects their personalities and hobbies. Parents also hope their children the experience of living abroad will benefit them in a fiercely competitive job market.

When China opened to the outside world in the late 1970s, nearly all of its students studying overseas were pursuing master's degrees or doctorates. And so it remained until about 10 years ago when, first, the proportion of undergraduate students rose before mainland children began enrolling at overseas high schools a few years ago, according to a report by, China’s largest education portal website.

In the United States, one of the top three countries preferred by Chinese students, nearly 24,000 mainland pupils were enrolled at private high schools in 2013, compared to just 65 in 2005, the report said.

I have only one child and I dearly want her to stay with me. But I know that studying abroad will benefit her future and I can’t be selfish
Zeng Ying, from Guangdong

Zeng Ying, from Guangdong, said her 16-year-old daughter was happy attending high school in Montreal and the family was planning to send her to university in Canada or the US, despite the financial burden of her tuition and living expenses.

“My daughter decided [to study abroad],” she said. “I have only one child and I dearly want her to stay with me. But I know that studying abroad will benefit her future and I can’t be selfish.”

Zou said most of mainland pupils studying abroad came from the wealthy coastal regions while families in second- and third-tier cities preferred their children to complete high school at home.

Jackie Liu, a consultant at that serves students hoping to study in Australia, said tuition ranged from about 70,000 yuan a year at public schools to 200,000 yuan at private schools.

Australia admitted foreign students to its middle school Grades 7-9 last year. Liu said many Chinese mothers accompanied their children to Australia to look after them. “It’s not a problem for the family because many of them are already stay-at-home mums.”

Clive Smith-Langridge, headmaster of Packwood Haugh School in England, said he received many enquiries from Chinese parents about his preparatory school that accommodates pupils aged four to 13. One came from the parent of a one-year-old baby.

“We can prepare and send our students to the best independent schools in England, like Eton,” he said. “At the moment there are two or three Chinese students, but the market is promising here and the demand for high-quality education is growing.”

Ouyang Qiang, China representative of Germany’s boarding school Schule Schloss Salem, which teaches in both German and English, said 40 of the school’s 630 students were from the mainland, a big jump from just one or two in the late 1990s when he started this job.

Although its tuition and board cost ¤30,000 per year (HK$255,000), the school has received many application from the mainland, he said.

Ten Chinese students will graduate this year and candidates from China shall fill these openings, Ouyang said. “We won’t recruit more students from China because there is a quota and we are still a German school,” he said.