China - Country Commercial Guide

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country.  Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2022-01-04

K-12 Education

China has the world’s largest K-12 education market. In 2019, there were 124.30 elementary (Grade 1-6) students, 64.76 million junior middle schools (Grade 7-9) students, and 32.57 million high school students (Grade 10-12), which together constituted a market of approximately $120 billion. Additionally, China reported 59.73 million Kindergarten students (3-5 years old) in 2019, a group excluded in China’s K-12 market definition but demonstrating strong demand for international products and services.

China’s regulations commonly categorize K-12 education service providers into non-profit / for-profit by financial structure. Non-profit entities are mainly schools that provide full-time curricular education. For-profit entities can be further divided into schools, extracurricular academic tutoring, and non-academic extracurricular tutoring.

The whole K-12 education market has grown exponentially in recent years, raising social anxiety among parents and students. Since early 2021, China’s central government has been framing a series of strict rules to ease pressure on school children and financial strain on families by regulating and restricting private investment in the private tutoring market. The clampdown on the for-proft curriculum tutor industry in July 2021 will affect online and offline tutoring service providers.

Shadowed by these rules, investment in K-12 Education is anticipated to shrink sharply in the near future. Nonetheless, the enormous demand for better education remains from both parents and schools. Large players might strategically shift business focus to new frontiers like extracurricular tutoring or vocational education.

Opportunities for U.S. companies include:

Non-academic extracurricular programs that offer all-round education. Non-academic extracurricular programs are exempted from the government’s scrutiny, such as art, computer coding, sports, and music. Chinese parents’ strong will for education investment remains unchanged. All around education, diversified senior high school programs all look promising. 

Academic and non-academic pre-college enrichment programs for high school students: China’s tough measures on education aim to regulate the nine-year compulsory education (G1-9) market but barely impact high schools. High school students with the intention to study abroad are eager to prepare through these courses. While the pandemic restricts people’s international travels, domestic leaders like GEC Academy reported increased sales of international enrichment courses in 2020. It is anticipated the market demand will continue to grow.

US Boarding schools will remain appealing to Chinese parents once consistent international travel resumes.

Higher Education

According to Open Doors’ Fast Facts 2020 Report, the United States is the top international destination for Chinese higher-education students. For the 11th consecutive year, China remained the largest source of international students in the United States in 2019/20, with 372,532 students in undergraduate, graduate, non-degree, and optional practical training (OPT) programs. This figure represents a 0.8% increase from 2018/19.

Chinese Students in the United States
Chinese Students in the United States

Source: Open Doors

Undergraduate and Graduate Programs

During the 2019/2020 school year, 148,160 Chinese students were studying in U.S. undergraduate programs, and 137,096 for U.S. master and doctoral programs. The number of undergraduates decreased by 0.5% from the previous year, with the number of graduate students increasing by 2.8%.

Despite all the setbacks brought by the pandemic, there are several trends worth noticing in terms of the international education market in China. Obviously, previous travel restrictions and lockdowns have stopped many Chinese students from studying abroad. However, research conducted by Sunrise International has shown that interest by Chinese students for an overseas education remains high. The study reflects that the U.S. has started to lose ground to the UK and Canada as a study destination in the minds of Chinese families. Some of the major factors include COVID-19 seriousness as well as gun violence and anti-Asian racism. U.S. Colleges and universities should continue prioritizing safety in-person study and providing institutional support for international students among COVID-19 restrictions to increase their attractiveness.

Another positive sign is the lifting of student travel visa restrictions in May 2021. U.S. colleges and universities may consider aligning pre-departure and arrival vaccination guidelines to improve students’ experience.  During the Summer of 2021, the U.S. issued visas to over 85,000 students.

According to ISC research, in 2020, 53 international schools opened, with 395,659 children enrolled in English-medium international schools in China. Unlike students within the public education system, most of the students enrolled in China’s international schools prefer to study abroad upon graduation. Although approximately 20% of study agencies closed over the past year, they likely will continue to serve as a bridge for students in China wishing to study abroad for college. The use of social media and virtual “school campus tours” will continue to play an essential role in student recruitment.

Vocational Education

Community College Programs

U.S. community colleges and vocational schools are gaining popularity in China. They require fewer prerequisites for admission, have more affordable tuition and fees, and offer credits recognized by well-known four-year universities in the United States. U.S. community colleges and vocational schools looking to recruit students from China should focus on the unique experiences offered to students. These can include proximity to major cities, ease of transportation, proximity to natural resources, and unique student community groups.

To further establish an exceptional value and provide differentiation in a very crowded market, community colleges and vocational schools should highlight feeder programs and partnerships with higher-level and high-ranked universities. Community colleges and vocational schools should also highlight the unique features of their skills training programs. Corporate partnerships, as well as apprenticeship and internship programs, are equally critical to gaining notice.

Education Technology

2020 has brought extraordinary changes across the world, and education has been no exception. International students especially have had to adjust their studying methods – online learning by adopting various technology platforms. 

In the recent five years, China has rapidly grown in education technology (EdTech) and online learning both in the private and public sectors. The driving forces include favorable government policies, abundant venture capital, active entrepreneurial activities, consumption upgrade, fast-growing mobile internet penetration, and the fact that the Chinese attach great importance to education. Since 2015, China has been leading the global investment in EdTech. According to Holon IQ, in 2020, China set a record $10B USD invested in EdTech and by the end of Q1 2021 had nearly invested 2x the U.S., 6x India, and 10x Europe since 2010.

With the longer-term impact of COVID-19 on educational models, an upturn in spending on digital infrastructure in education, and greater spending in the coming years, new digital models and trends are expected.

Industry Trends

  • Online-Merge-Offline (OMO) Model:  The OMO model of the education industry refers to a business model that reshapes the entire education chain through technological innovation and organizational change and then achieves online and offline integration. OMO focuses on the cornerstones of the two major industries: effect and service. Through the model, innovation broadens the service radius and enhances the impact of education. For example, New Oriental has launched a dual teacher model, TAL has launched Xueersi online schools.  According to iResearch Inc., for institutions, OMO is one of the key means to achieve product differentiation, reduce customer acquisition costs, and deepen the moat; OMO does not specify a precise boundary and scope, each institution explores its solutions under the OMO model based on its understanding of technology and education.
  • STEM learning continues to be a major priority for the Chinese market. Rising middle-class incomes and fears of intense future competition for college admissions and jobs lead parents to pay substantial sums for STEAM-related education for younger children. This demand for STEAM education and training has seen the creation of training programs and startups offering out-of-school courses in coding, robotics, and 3-D printing.
  • The emphasis on project-based learning is growing.
  • Continuing with the growing demand for personalized learning, formative methods are supplanting traditional, summative approaches (especially with regard to test-taking). As a result, we are starting to see more ed-tech firms with solutions that focus on formative assessments.
  • Robotics kits are becoming better packaged (even for young students) and incorporate apps to teach coding.
  • Elements of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are becoming an integral part of responsive apps that adjust to various learning levels.
  • Ed-tech firms have seen the emergence of opportunities to create apps for preschool and kindergarten students.
  • The mobile education texting for homework help/crowdsourcing market has expanded to include a handful of firms that have developed crowdsourcing apps/web platforms to allow students to answer each other’s questions or to engage quickly with a teacher/expert for help.
  • School management system.


  • The biggest challenge for U.S. Ed-tech firms is localization. Many firms have created education technology to specific curriculum and U.S. state standards. To adapt their technology to a specific market, whether it be language, standards, curriculum, etc., will increase costs. This may deter some US education technology firms from entering smaller markets with unique languages or very specific curriculum and standards.
  • Look for the right local partners is a must. Other ways to monetize their solutions is through e-commerce strategies, targeting private schools and parents.
  • Startups in the ed tech sector face a unique challenge marketing their products worldwide on a limited budget. We will need to adapt our services to facilitate non-traditional web-based marketing through webinars, virtual trade missions, etc.

Trade Events

  • Top Schools International Education Resources Expo-Xiamen
  • China Education Expo 2021-Beijing, Guangzhou & Shanghai
  • Global Education Technology Summit & Expo-Beijing