17 Struggling UK Independent Schools Bought by Communist China: Report

By Neil Campbell | March 2, 2021
Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
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Britain's Prince William (L) is guided by Matthew Hu, China representative of the Prince's School of Traditional Arts, during a visit to the Shijia Hutong in Beijing on March 2, 2015

The economic repercussions of the UK’s increasingly restrictive SARS-CoV-2 pandemic measures have started to manifest in everyday British society in an alarming way as Chinese Communist Party (CCP) backed organizations have begun buying up struggling independent schools. 

A Feb. 20 article by the Daily Mail revealed Chinese companies have already purchased 17 schools, nine of which are “owned by firms whose founders or bosses are among China’s most senior Communist Party members,” said the paper.

Because of extended lockdowns and mass campaigns to enforce social distancing, boarding schools have seen fees plummet by 35 percent and boarding charges by 20 percent. The schools are not eligible for significant portions of bailout spending earmarked by Boris Johnson’s government for closed schools, because they must stay open to support the students they can. 

According to the report, a Chinese firm known as Bright Scholar, owned by “Asia’s richest woman,” Yang Huiyan with a net worth of around $27.9 billion, is a keystone in the CCP’s acquisition scheme. According to the Mail, her father Yang Guoqiang is “a member of the Communist Party’s highest-ranking advisory council.”

Other entities in the scheme are Wanda Group, founded by a former People’s Liberation Army soldier Wang Jianlin — with a net worth of around $14 billion and also a “member of China’s senior Communist Party advisory council” — and China First Capital Group, whose board members are composed of senior CCP officials.

Bedstone College, purchased by Wanda Group, a company founded by former PLA soldier Wang Jianlin, a member of a senior Chinese Communist Party advisory council.
Bedstone College, purchased by Wanda Group, a company founded by former PLA soldier Wang Jianlin, a member of a senior Chinese Communist Party advisory council. (Source: Paul Dickson on Geograph.org.uk CC-BY-SA 2.0 )

Daily Mail says another entity, Ray Education, boasted on its website it was part of the Party’s Belt and Road Initiative, saying it was “relying on British brand schools and responding to the Belt And Road call [of the Chinese government],” and looking to expand through “Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, South Africa, Nigeria and other countries.”

The exposure comes on the back of revelations of the growth of CCP-controlled Confucius Institutes in 29 universities and more than 150 schools in the country. The Institutes claim to teach Chinese language and culture but were labeled a “foreign mission” by the Trump Administration for being a direct arm of Beijing, promoting censorship of American values and free speech, and indoctrination of students with China’s state propaganda. 

In a Feb. 25 broadcast of Nexus on Turkish public broadcaster TRT World, UK Reform Party leader and Brexit leader Nigel Farage faced off in a roundtable discussion against Headmaster Roger Sinnett of St. Bees in Cumbria, one of the schools who has taken funding from Party-linked Chinese entities, and Julian Fisher, Vice Chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in China.

 

“My concern is… whether it’s culturally, educationally, whether it’s in business, it could be telecoms or many other sectors, but we’re seeing influence of the Chinese Communist Party growing massively in this and every other western country,” said Farage, adding he regards the Party’s genocide of Uyghur Muslims and annihilation of Hong Kong democracy as “wholly unacceptable.”

Farage says the key problem is that the Chinese takeover has been happening without any public debate, “It’s as if the upper echelons of British society, civil service and government, have become so pro-CCP and China, that I just think if we’re going to allow the Chinese to go on buying assets in this country, let’s at least have a public discussion about whether it makes sense.”

When asked for his opinion by the moderator as to why there is so little public discussion, Farage responded simply, “Money.”

“If you sell your soul for money to a regime that has no respect for human rights, democracy, freedom of speech, then I think you deserve what’s coming to you.”

St. Bees Headmaster Sinnett sought to defend the Chinese purchases by arguing the 17 independent schools bought are a drop in the bucket compared to the 2600 independent schools in the country.

Look, my view, I would not send my child to a school that was under Chinese control because I wouldn’t trust, whatever the safeguards are, I wouldn’t trust the fact that they won’t be propagandized. That’s how I feel about it.

Nigel Farage, Reform UK Leader

Farage rebutted, “How many will they have in three years’ time? Answer me that question.”

Sinnett, who says he also runs three schools inside of China, noted 42 schools had closed in 2020 due to the effect of the government’s lockdown measures on the economy. 

The Headmaster claimed his schools (in China) were exporting British education and were influencing the CCP, not the other way around. 

He also attempted to sell the notion of “fusion education,” integrating Chinese education with British education, “The whole idea being that we integrate, we don’t separate. We collaborate, we don’t confront.” Sinnett claimed he had the sole discretion over the curriculum in both the UK and Chinese schools, abided by Chinese law, and was not required to “censor anything.”

“‘Fusion Education’ sounds to me like a very, very strange term,” said Farage. “Why not give them a good British education?  Surely, that’s what we should be doing.”

At the end of the session, Sinnett appeared to downplay the issue, saying that “the number of schools under Communist control in England, may be countable on one hand, maybe less.”

Farage shot back, “So what? So what? Disease starts with a couple of cells that go wrong. I don’t know how many hundreds they are going to buy in the next few years.”

Julian Fisher said the acquisitions aren’t a secret because his department, the British Chamber of Commerce in China released a report in June of 2020 outlining the issue, which he says the Daily Mail article was based upon. 

Fisher called the story “Manufactured outrage,” adding “This isn’t really a story. It is about foreign investment into the UK. This happens every single day, and is something we should encourage, especially when it’s helping failing schools and helping to support local economies, especially in local areas. It’s just not a story.”

Fisher also tried to frame the issue more in a more palatable fashion, saying, “China is not a monolith.” He defended his argument by saying there are “private enterprises” who want to buy schools in the UK to invest their money every day, “They are not affiliated with the government in any way,” he said. 

“They are private businesses who want to integrate revenue for profit,” adding he thinks the CCP actually doesn’t want the investors to purchase schools. 

Nigel Farage made his personal views on Chinese subversion of the English education system clear, “Look, my view, I would not send my child to a school that was under Chinese control because I wouldn’t trust, whatever the safeguards are, I wouldn’t trust the fact that they won’t be propagandized. That’s how I feel about it.”

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