Shanghai-based English Training Center Struggles to Survive

By Rakini Bergundy, December 4, 2019

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One of China’s largest English course providers, Web International English’s shocking closure in October continues to reverberate through the education sector. Academies are closing, investors are apprehensive, parents are worried – and most of all, students’ education are directly being impacted. 

Sixth Tone reported a story on November 28 about Yulia Turchinova, owner of a Shanghai-based English training center who fled China amid licensing troubles. 

Turchinova started Step Up Education in 2017, which teaches children aged 3 to 6, with the help of a Chinese partner who promised to deal with the administrative side of things, including securing proper licensing. In December 2018, police inspectors made their rounds and informed Turchinova that her business was, in fact, not legitimate as Step Up was only registered as a regular business rather than an educational organization. Unsurprisingly, the rules and regulations for obtaining an educational license are much more complicated. Turchinova was given a warning, and told she had six months to figure out what to do. 

photo-1544773088-d142e38f5793_ixlib-rb-1.2.jpgImage via Unsplash

Although her Chinese partner insisted that the issue would be resolved in a few weeks, months passed without any change. Turchinova began exploring options to become a branch of a larger institution and tried to secure a sublet license from a larger educational organization. The average cost of a sublet license is at least RMB300,000. Despite Turchinova willing to work out a deal, the partner from the larger organization pulled out at the last minute.

As Turchinova cut business ties with her Chinese partner, they retaliated by terminating Step Up’s lease early – forcing the school to shutter its doors on November 1. Turchinova told Sixth Tone, “I didn’t want to flee, but I didn’t want to go to jail either, if I’d known it’d be so complicated to run an English training center here, I never would have set up Step Up.”

READ MORE: Guangdong Cracks Down on Unqualified Foreign Teachers

However, amid the sudden closure, which left over 200 families confused and angry – one of the student’s parent offered to step in and help. Jason Qiao, the father of a student who had been studying at Step Up since the founding of the school, promised to invest and help them apply for a license from the education authorities. Qiao remarked, “The market needs are there: Quality preschool education is key to elite education, which many local parents value. It was a chaotic market and, as a parent, I’m glad the authorities are cleaning out illegal operations. But Step Up has a good teaching team that is very dedicated. We need to make efforts not to lose such good resources.”

That’s spoke with a former training center owner in Guangzhou’s Panyu district who remarked that most centers in their area were not properly licensed but the government was aware. Checks were conducted regulary, and certain types of advertisements were restricted. It seems that a crackdown across China is inevitable, the question is, rather, when it will happen.

Step Up touts small class sizes with a 6:1 student to teacher ratio and an average class price of less than RMB100, whereas other schools will cost, on average, RMB200 per class. Although this story may have a silver lining, Step Up’s future is still unclear. Turchinova is back in Shanghai and 70 parents signed a petition asking local police to drop the case. Qiao believes that the school can obtain a license within three months as “Step Up has met the requirements… given families’ urgent need to continue learning with the teachers, [and] hope[s] the education bureau can speed up their approval procedure to license [them].”

Step Up officially reopened it doors on November 18, and instead of angry parents, Turchinova was unexpectedly greeted with hugs and a big cake. 

READ MORE: English Teachers Left Without Pay After Training Centers Shuttered in China

[Cover image via Unsplash]

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