Marshall Roslyn recently completed an MBA at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management in Beijing. He has studied Mandarin Chinese for over 10 years and has lived and worked in China for 4 of the last 8 years. While completing studies at Tsinghua, Marshall worked with Revolution Learning and explored investment opportunities in China’s education market. Marshall is a Principal at Revolution Learningand will be blogging occasionally on EdReformer about issues relating to International Education and American Competitiveness. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and can follow his twitter feed@marshallroslyn
You’ve come back to the United States after getting an MBA in China and after spending three years there. What can you tell us about how the Chinese for-profit education sector operates?
To discuss the for-profit education sector in China, it’s important to have a larger context of the Chinese education system. But, that primer would be a bit too long for this interview. Perhaps I will write a subsequent post that goes into more detail. Suffice it to say that the Chinese education market is the largest in the world. There are well over 200 million students in the Chinese education system. Over 350 million Chinese are studying English at one stage or another. And education spend is estimated to be between 15-20% of disposable income.
With such a large market, there is ample opportunity to provide education products and services. Unsurprisingly, the education market in China is highly regulated, particularly for foreign companies. As such, the best opportunities tend to lie around the periphery of the system and in transition stages including pre-school/kindergarten, test prep, language learning and vocational schools. Private schools both at the high school and university level are growing in number, but remain a relatively small percentage of the overall mix.
Do you notice any striking contrasts when observing how the Chinese government looks at investments in education versus how K12 and higher education is regulated and invested in in the United States?
Sure. To start, we obviously have very different systems of government and this has a fundamental and important impact on education as well as many other policy areas. Generally speaking, China can take a long-term perspective and focus on specific reform goals. Over the years they have made concerted efforts to establish English language acquisition as an important learning goal, to improve science and engineering capabilities, encourage universal literacy, and develop a handful of top-tier universities. It’s fair to say that China is more strategic and targeted in how the government approaches investment in the education space and they take specific incremental steps in addressing large problems.
Do you see any areas for collaboration between US and China investors / regulators on this front?
As has been widely documented, there are certain components of China’s education system (e.g. developing creativity and innovation) where they may be weaker than the US and the same holds true for the reverse (e.g. producing large numbers of mathematicians, scientists and engineers). This dynamic creates a rich opportunity for partnership and collaboration. The Chinese recognize they have much to learn from the US education system as well as the education systems of countries throughout the world. Americans, I firmly believe, could also learn a great deal from studying the Chinese approach to education and learning how to blend certain aspects into US system. At the least, there should be more students in this country studying Mandarin Chinese.
Thinking more broadly, what would you say is the state of “global learning” today?
I believe global learning in the United States to be woefully inadequate. I recognize when you have low and declining college matriculation rates in public schools across the country, there are fundamentals like arithmetic and literacy that should come first, but I think in general we do a pretty bad job of getting our kids to think about the world beyond our borders. And this needs to change.
On the flip side, many of the other countries around the world know a great deal about us. They are learning English and they are taught about our history, our politics and our society. Some here may think that we don’t need to improve our international knowledge – the logic goes that if people in other countries speak English and know our ways, then we don’t need to make the effort the other way around. Nothing could be further from the truth. And as the ability to work in a more international context becomes more important across all fields and industries, this lack of global learning in the US puts kids here at a disadvantage.
Do you see any issues internationally in Brazil, India, or China, places you have traveled to and worked in, that correspond to the issues being raised in the education reform movement in the United States?
Education is fundamental. It touches all aspects of our country today – economic, political and social issues are all deeply impacted by our education system. As countries like India, China, Brazil and others grow in prosperity and relative influence, Americans should be excited by new market opportunities and areas for possible collaboration. But, we should also be reminded that we must do a much better job of investing in and improving our own system.
Everyone recognizes that the world is becoming incredibly interconnected and this reality influences education. The edreform movement in the US shares the same principles as movements in other countries. People around the world recognize that knowledge and learning is the key to innovation and development. In this day and age, it is near impossible for a society, a company or an individual to have a chance to succeed in the world without having the ability, resources and access to learn. That is why the right to a high quality education for all children both here in the US and also in other countries is necessary. At its core, the achievement of this goal is what the edreform movement is all about.