The Hurun Report released its “2016 Study Abroad Trend Special Report,” an analysis of major trends in the study abroad market for Chinese students.

According to the report, rising wealth in Chinese families is driving down the age at which students begin their overseas studies. But with a rise in outbound students, many schools are increasing their requirements for foreign students. Especially those from China.

The Institute of International Education’s “2015 Open Door Report” found that during the 2014-2015 school year, some 304,040 Chinese students headed to the US to study – the fifth year of increase.

For those unable to go abroad, Beijing has been opening more international schools. The city has 75 international schools covering education levels from kindergarten to high school, 65 of which are focused on high school education.

Yihai No. 8 School International Division in Fengtai District is one of the city’s best, standing above the better-known schools AIDI International School and Huijia International School.

A teacher surnamed Wang at Huijia International School said her students were not very respectful. “Many students at international schools come from wealthy families, and they don’t come to learn. Teachers are expected to please them,” she said.

Yihai No. 8 School, a branch of Yihai Education Group, has a different situation. The school cooperates with Sino Bright School in British Columbia, Canada to offer kindergarten to high school education. Subjects and attendance requirements are the same as at most high schools. The school is operated similar to a military academy, with a long list of banned behaviors and a bugle for a wake-up call in the morning.

Tuition costs approximately 100,000 yuan per year. Students who attend from kindergarten or middle school enjoy a cheaper rate during their high school years.

Although the website says the school has 300 students, Yihai No. 8 School currently has 500 students in regular attendance. In 2014, some 120 students graduated from Yihai and intended to continue their studies.

Manipulating Enrollment Rates

Yihai boasts a near-perfect graduation and enrollment rate, but a closer analysis reveals less positive results. In 2014, half the graduates faced a university enrollment crisis due to poor grades and limited English ability.

Students at international schools normally do not require an IELTS or TOEFL score when applying to universities abroad: usually a course such as “English 12” will be considered as a substitute. But unfortunately, half of Yihai’s 2014 graduates failed this class.

The 2015 graduates are in a similar situation, and it looks worse for 2016.

“I miss my old class. My current students just are not learning,” said the school’s Chinese teacher, surnamed Zhang. “My new class has a disappointing learning atmosphere, and that was not what I expected.”

“Anything involving numbers and equations they can figure out, but if we are talking about biology, history and social studies, it’s headache,” she said. Wang said the school has been requiring its Chinese teachers to becoming a “bridge” to explain subjects to the students.

But still, many of them graduate and enter university.

Students who fail begin their university careers in Canada, but usually in an ESL program. Some universities, such as University of Toronto, York University and University of Alberta, set a time limit on when students must complete ESL, but some do not.

Classes begin with basic English, the content of which is relevant to the students’ university-level courses. Moreover, their international enrollment allows schools to charge a more expensive tuition fee. To enroll in an ESL course in Alberta costs CA $3,000-5,000 per semester.

Ted (pseudonym) is one of many students who graduated in 2014. He started university that September, but today he remains in the remedial ESL class. “Sometimes, I wonder why I am so far behind,” he said. “I had many classmates in high school who scored the same as I did, but they’re obviously more qualified.”

Another student in ESL named Richard (pseudonym) has earned the nickname “Big Brother” for being so many years behind. He has had to repeat remedial English three times.

Failing Out

Schools make no promise that students can ever get past their ESL class, and constant failure ends many university careers.

Of Yihai’s 2014 graduates, about 20 headed to universities in Alberta. Few made it out of ESL and into their core studies, and the ones who did completed their first nine years of education in China’s public school system.

The students stuck in ESL often spend all their time on computer games. “Big Brother” Richard said he spend nearly CA $30,000 playing Cross Fire: the money had been intended for his tuition. “My parents do not ask much about my academic life, but I spend a lot of it gaming,” Richard said.

Another international student of business, who identified himself as Brady (pseudonym), said he left his classes when he learned all his friends were still stuck in ESL. “My friends are there, and I don’t want to leave them behind,” he said. He spent most of his first year in restaurants.

Jerry (pseudonym) also skipped most of his first-year classes. “When I think about my life in Canada, I realized I learned nothing. I want to cry but have no tears,” he said.

Miserable academic performance has done little to shake the faith of their parents. Frank (pseudonym), a student at Yihai No. 8 school, told his parents that although he hopes to obtain a degree, his “study abroad” might end up being an expensive tour of Canada. Poor academic performance forced him to drop a number of classes. His parents said they hope he can turn his love of cooking into a career.

Jerry’s parents promised him a world tour when he finished his university career. But his parents remain unaware his is on “academic probation” and on the verge of being thrown out of school.

Failure to Adapt

It appears that only China’s international students who completed their basic education in public school have what it takes to succeed.

Kenny Li, the former vice president of the Chinese Student and Scholars Association at MacEwan University, said, “I felt something very different from these international students. They were abnormal when they talked, and they behaved differently.”

Emily (pseudonym), who graduated from Maple Leaf International School, hoped to enter the school’s nursing program. The school’s grade requirements were too high to achieve for her, so she hired someone else to write her term paper. “If I had done it myself, I’m pretty sure I would have failed, and then I would learn nothing at Maple Leaf.”

International student Jeff (pseudonym), who graduated from Sino Bright School in He’nan province, was also lazy during his studies. His former roommate surnamed Wang said, “I initially felt he was a xueba (student who focuses only on learning). He had top offers from other universities like UBC or SFU, but in the end he failed all his courses!”

“He barely attended his lectures, and he claimed he knew everything since it was covered in his international high school. But eventually the material diverged, and that’s why he failed”, he said.

According to “2015 Study Abroad Trend” study, China sent about 4 million people abroad from 1978-2015. Of them, 1.3 million people failed to finish their degrees, and over 2 million returned to China.

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