How can foreign companies enter the Chinese education market?

Where do you start, if you want to make it in China? Photo: Design n Print / Pixabay

Finland is famous for its approach to education. The country is home to many great schools, universities and companies with a lot to offer the rest of the world, let alone the huge Chinese market.  

But making it in China is easier said than done.  

How do you open the door to the lucrative market? It is often said that finding the right partner is key. But how do you actually find the right cooperation partner in a country with almost 1.4 billion people and the world’s largest education system? 

These are some of the questions that Finn-Sino Education Club often gets from our members. So, we passed them on to Xu Zheng. He is a project manager at Sumino Oy, a Finnish company specialised in exporting Finnish education pedagogy, curricula, and teaching materials to China.  

Partnerships begin with a customers’ need 

It is possible to enter the Chinese market by attending an industry fair or through the embassy.  

However, close to all of the many partnerships between Finnish and Chinese partners that Xu has helped building, have sprung from a clearly articulated demand from China.  

Take for example the newly founded Sino-Finn Alliance for Elderly Care, involving more than 80 Chinese educational institutions and companies alongside Sumino, Tampere Vocational College and Turku University of Applied Sciences.  

Already this autumn, the first concrete outcome of the cooperation will see the light of day, as Finnish online training of Chinese teachers will take place. Next up are development of joint elderly care degree programmes and cooperation on curricula.    

“It started as a simple idea, prompted by a Chinese governmental visit to Finland, where the enormous amount of elderly in China and the lack of caretakers was mentioned,” says Xu. “We at Sumino thought that Finland might be able to help solving the problem and shared the idea with some of our partners in China. Slowly but surely, we collected more and more information and found more and more relevant partners in both countries.” 

An agent with good connections 

The public sector is by far the largest buyer of foreign education solutions in China, notes Xu. And when dealing with Chinese officials, a good agent is necessary.  

“Chinese public sector players don’t find foreign companies themselves. They have to know and trust the company that they deal with.” 

When talking about doing business in China, the concept guanxi (关系) often comes up. It stresses the importance of having personal trust and strong relationships with someone, before doing business with them.  

In Xu’s opinion strong networks and personal connections are important in all countries. And building relationships takes time.  

“Being Chinese is definitely an advantage. But even for me, as a Chinese, it takes a long time to get to know new Chinese partners,” he says and points to a project, helping Chinese teachers incorporate nature into their classes with Finnish teaching materials.  

“It took a long time, before the nature education project took off.” 

A Finnish lake of companies to fish from 

Xu explains that new initiatives often start with an unplanned chat or policy change from China.  

“Someone says that ‘in China, we are planning to do this and this, do you know someone in Finland with whom we could cooperate?’” 

Here, platforms such as the Finn-Sino Education Club can play an important role.  

“The club can function as a first touchpoint between China and Finland,” Xu mentioned, while adding that “customers always ask for the most comprehensive solutions.” 

“Such solutions might, however, be beyond the capability of a single Finnish company,” he continued.  

“By connecting internally with each other, Finnish companies might have a better chance, when a Chinese customer is looking for new partners.”

Does your company have value to add to the Chinese education market? Do not hesitate to contact Finn-Sino Education Club for further information on how to become more visible to potential Chinese partners.