Academic Counselling in Private International Schools in China

By Wang Xiaokun (Alex)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Background 

3. Role of Educational Counsellors

4. Establishing of a Multi-Perspective Approachto School Counselling

5. Potential Challenges

6. Conclusion

7. References

8. About the Author

1. Introduction

Fornearly a decade the need for Chinese students to study overseas facilitated the establishments of a new type of international schools in mainland China. Those schools aim to recruit Chinese local students at the upper-secondary level and became more popular by providing English-medium curricula which makes students eligible to pursue their undergraduate studies abroad after gaining globally recognised qualifications such as GCE A-levels, International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, and others. Parents therefore choose to send their children to study international curricula, and the development of this type of schools reflects the upwelling demand of the society for a more diversified secondary schooling system (Wang, 2012).

This entry describes this new type of international schools and their importance for providing Chinese families with alternative choices for education. It then examines the significance of setting up school academic counselling systems in such schools. In this context, school academic counselling focuses on guiding students throughout their study at schools andpreparing them to apply to overseas universities. Having an effective school academic counselling system can enable private fee-charging schools to survive in a competitive market and help students to be more competent in pursuing future goals. The entry then explorespotential challenges for setting up counselling systems in new schools by discussing the current situation in Chinese international education. 

2. Background

Since 2010, the number of Chinese students going to study abroad has increased significantly. According to the statistics of the Ministry of Education of the Peoples’ Republic of China (2017), the number reached 544,500 in 2016 and, compared with 144,900 in 2012, it has increased over three times. Of the total number of students, 30% are studying undergraduate courses and 35% are studying at the postgraduate level. 70% of students are studying in countries where the instruction language is English. Over 90% of the students are supported by private finance.

Students who pursue overseas postgraduate degrees could gain admissions after they graduate from universities in China. The university diploma issued by Chinese Tertiary Education institutions is recognised and accepted as admission requirements, and students will not experience many obstacles in the process of admissions. However, for students who receive a Senior High School Diploma from Chinese local high schools or take Chinese University Entrance Examinations (‘Gao Kao’), their qualifications cannot always meet direct entry requirements for undergraduate admission at top universities overseas. The Chinese Senior High School Diploma is not listed as an accepted qualification for admission to Imperial College London (Imperial College London, 2017), and University of Oxford states that the qualification is not sufficient to make candidate competitive in the application process (University of Oxford, 2017). If they wish to gain entry to study an undergraduate degree abroad, students have to take different routes to meet the university entry requirements. 

One of the routes is to attend schools that run international curricula, especially to cover the period of Grades 9 to 12. However, Chinese local mainstream public schools are not allowed to provide international courses without government permission, and traditional international schools only admit students who hold non-Chinese passports. The new type of international schools - institutions running international curricula - are mostly privately owned or in limited cooperation with local mainstream public schools. This type of institution is often regarded as a new international school (‘Guoji Xuexiao’ or ‘Guoji Banin Chinese) by Chinese parents and students. The student body of these institutions are mostly Chinese nationals. There is no way for students to gain entry to Chinese universities if they are not studying under Chinese High School curriculum. When students are enrolled to study under international curriculum for Grades 9 to 12, the expectation for them is to successfully gain overseas university admission (IEdu China, 2017). 

Newly emerged schools are positioned in the fee-charging market place and, therefore, their first priority is to attract more students so that they could develop sustainably. The school recruitment work is facing severe competition in the educational market, and the attractiveness of the school is largely dependent on university admission statistics of their students. However, many schools focus on students’ academic performance and set school academic counselling as a low priority. The imbalanced strategic approach provides insufficient support for students to understand the curriculum and establish their educational goals. Parents having only little information unquestionably follow profit-oriented external educational consulting agents who claim to provide guaranteed university admissions abroad. The imbalanced school setup, the uninformed students, the anxious parents, and the insatiate service market form a vicious cycle to impede the development of school and students. 

3. Role of Educational Counsellors

School educational counsellors should mainly focus on guiding students to achieve their academic goals, including the major goal of gaining overseas university entry. Setting up good practice for school educational counselling will then have a positive impact. First, 

most of the students studying in these international schools previously studied at Chinese local lower secondary schools. In Chinese secondary schools, the role of school educational counsellors is ambiguous, and few schools have designated education counsellors to provide information or consultations for student future planning. This is due to the linear way of educational progress within the Chinese schooling system. As students canadvance into higher levels by taking entranceexams accepted foruniversity admission, most of them do not need much information about their future study. They canalways get admitted to some tertiary institution as long as they perform well in national college entry exams(Gaokao). 

When students shift to study in an international school, they unavoidably face the challenge of applying to overseas universitieswith different admission requirements. Although admission requirements vary from country to country or even differ from one university to another, students could be helpedinthe application process if theirpreparation starts earlier with the assistance of educational counsellors. Good university admission results will in turn be beneficial to the private schools for marketing and student/teacher recruiting. This isoneessential role of school educational counsellor.  

Second, the schools claimto be international because they provide international qualification courses and students graduate to attend overseas universities. International schools often make certain curricula adjustments to fit their needs, which are often affected by the admission information from universities (Teng, Hu, and Li, 2016). At this point, school counsellors will act as an information crux to help collect and share information and in this way help schools and students understand the significance of that information. Take English language requirements as an example: Chinese students need to pass English language tests in order to study at universities in the UK. Before 2013, many UK universities could consider the qualification of IGCSE English as a Second Language as a valid proof for English ability, such as University of Oxford, Imperial College London, and University of Warwick. Some international schools in China considered this qualification as a compulsory part of their course design if they provide IGCSE qualifications. However, when the UK Boarder Agency (UKBA) was replaced by UK Visa and Immigration in 2013, the student visa policy was subsequently changed to a new point-based system (GOVUK, 2013). Many universities no longer accepted IGCSE English as a valid test for visa application (Imperial, 2017b; Oxford, 2017a; Warwick, 2017). International school counsellors can stay up-to-date with such information to inform school administration about any changes to make alternative course design in time. 

Third, school educational counsellors could act as a nexus between school and family. Counsellors are able to follow the academic progress of students and to communicate with their family about their expectations. Many students and parents feel anxious because they are unaware of how student progress matches their expectations (Sina Education, 2016). For newly established schools, the trusting relationship between parents and school is often problematic. Credibility of private schools could be gained if parents truly believed that the educational service is worth paying for. 

4. Establishinga Multi-Perspective Approach toSchool Counselling

The primary goal of schools should be empowering students through education. School educational counselling could perfoma key role in the balanced long-term development of students. Imbuing students with knowledge could help them attain certain academic achievements short-term, which fits the short-term goals of both school and students. But empowering students with the will and ability to learn in future has a far-reaching significance. In the context of new international schools in China school educational counselling could take a two-stage approach to foster the sustainable growth of students. 

Stage one is the phase of guiding students with knowledge, where students are taught and guided by counsellors to understand current curricula, establish achievable goals, and become familiarised with overseas educational systems. The significance of this training is not only to provide information or knowledge, but also to establish the initial trust and bond between counsellors and students. Stage two is the phase of empowerment, where a counsellor no longer teaches students detailed skills. Instead of giving them static written-down information, counsellor’ involvement should be minimised by gradually encouraging students to explore information by themselves. The external authority from schools should diminish and be replaced by students’ self-driven learning and exploration. In this way, students could be able to face future challenges with a mature mindset. 

5. Potential Challenges

The significance of establishing a counselling system in newly established international schools have been discussed above. Several aspects, however, will challenge the implementation of such practices. 

From the perspective of schools, it is more sustainable to establish a stable counselling system than to simply guide students through the routine university application process. However, the system cannot be built in one day, it needs constant adjustments and perfections overtime. Cost is an issue for schools that are reluctant to implement a whole school counseling approach. Many prefer to employaminimum number of school counsellors to cover the university application guidance process for their Grade 12 students. In the long run, fostering abilities ofstudents from lower grades will be more beneficial. 

As most counsellors are initially subject teachers, training will be required. Teachers often consider their current position/workload before shifting to an unfamiliar role. For many schools, teaching workload ranges from 14–20 periods per week. In China, there is no formal/official way for counsellors to be trained to fit the job description ofan international school counsellor. In most cases, schools need to establish a system to train their school teachers to be school counsellors.

Guidance provided by school counsellors is alsochallenged by off-the-shelf educational service providers. The rapid expansion of the international educational service sector has attracted more profit-oriented organisations and individuals. A unique ecology is forming and various educational services label themselves as key-holders to students’ dreams. They use previous successful cases to make a sale of their commercialised counselling packages such as expensive English coaching courses, extra-curricular activities, and application essays editing(JJL, 2017).

6. Conclusion

Schools should prioritise the practices of systematic school counselling so that students receive comprehensive and extensive training for overseas university application while they study at school. This will not only benefit students in attaining their educational goals, but also various abilities could be developed to enable students to face future challenges. It also helps private schools to formalise the processes to train teachers professionally, and more importantly, to serve students better. 

7. References

Guoji xuexiao jiazhang: gai ruhe yingdui zhongguoshi jiazhang jiaolv [Parents Anxieties vs International Schools]. (2016). Sina Education. Retrieved from

JJL Overseas Education. (2017). Yingguo G5 LSE chenggong anli [UK G5 London School of Economics and Political Sciences Successful Cases]. Retrieved from

IEdu China. (2017). Guo Nei Xue Ji Dui Guo Ji Xue Xiao Xue Sheng You He Ying Xiang[How does the education registration status affect students from international schools].   Retrieved from

Imperial College London (2017a). Academic Requirements for Undergraduate Study.   Retrieved from

Imperial College London (2017b). English Language Requirements.   Retrieved from

Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China. (2017).Yu bacheng liuxue renyuan xuecheng hou xuanze huiguo fazhan, 2016nian chuguo liuxue renyuan zongshu chao 54wan [Over 540 Thousands Chinese Students are studying overseas in 2016]. Retrieved from

Teng, J., Hu, J., & Li, M. (2016). International Curriculum in China: Status, Reflection and Value. Comparative Education Studies (12), 54-60. 

GOVUK. (2013). Guidance on Application for UK Visa as Tier 4 Student. UK: UK Visas and Immigration. Retrieved from

University of Oxford. (2017a). English Language Requirements.   Retrieved from

University of Oxford. (2017b). International Qualifications for Admission Requirements.   Retrieved from

University of Warwick. (2017). English Language Requirements.   Retrieved from

Wang, F. (2012). The Review of the Development of High School International Course in Shanghai. Journal of Schooling Studies, 9(4), 66-71. 

About the Author

Wang Xiaokun (Alex)

MEd, The University of Hong Kong