Education First (EF) is set to have “one of its biggest investment years ever” despite the coronavirus crisis, as the language tuition giant draws up expansion plans for its Chinese operation, one of its executives has said.

Jacob Toren, chief executive of one of the world’s largest educational travel and language training provider’s China division, said that EF is “confident to open more schools” this year across the country, where it already operates more than 300 centres.

EF, which was founded in 1965 and now has 52,000 employees in 114 countries, is also accelerating the development of its “hybrid” language tuition offering in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Toren, which forced it to close all of its locations and transfer tuition online.

His comments, which were made during an interview with China Global Television Network, came a month after it was revealed that rival organisation Wall Street English would wind down its China unit due to insurmountable operating conditions ushered in by the pandemic.

“The Chinese education market has great potential, both in size, and in quality,” said Toren. “We think it is set to become the largest education market in the world and we will, therefore, of course continue to invest in this region.

“We think this [pandemic] will be a defining moment that will strengthen China and we will see a strong rebound when all cities can return to normal.

“In 2020, we will see more schools, we will see that we continue to invest in our English hybrid learning system, and we will continue to invest in more teachers and talent.”

EF first entered China more than 20 years ago and has since built extensive operations across the mainland, teaching languages not only to school-age students, but also delivering English-language training to “thousands” of teachers in rural regions, said Toren.

The business, which was founded by Bertil Hult and is owned by the Swedish billionaire’s family, rarely speaks publicly about its strategy and is renowned in the industry for its tendency to not use external advisors.

EF’s bullish stance on China, whose education market is worth around $300 billion, was reinforced by the country’s new foreign investment law, said Toren, which took effect in January and was designed to further open parts of the economy to overseas capital.

“The new foreign investment law is a major milestone as China continues to open up,” he said. “The new law assures foreign investors – especially those committed to the market long term – that China is dedicated to fostering fair competition and creating a more transparent business environment.”

Date published: 22 May 2020

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