According to The Australian Financial Review today, Perth-based private school believes the market for education services in China is bigger than iron ore, as Australian schools increasingly look to the world's second-biggest economy to supplement federal government grants.
Perth's St Stephen's School and Melbourne's Haileybury are among those which believe money earned in China could allow them to keep fees down at home, while also offering students a more international education.
The push by both schools into China fits neatly with the vision of Trade Minister Andrew Robb who believes Australian education exporters could be teaching 10 million overseas students a year in less than a decade.
The sector is the fourth-largest export earner worth $16.7 billion annually, but enrols well under a million students a year.
Both St Stephen's and Haileybury are not looking to bring students to Australia, rather provide services to Chinese students in China.
Haileybury's Beijing campus had its "soft opening" with 200 students last September and will double in size next school year. At full capacity it will have 1200 students who will pay around $35,000 a year for boarding.
The school offers the traditional Chinese curriculum, with a heavy emphasis on English, for students up to year 9. Students then switch to Victoria's VCE curriculum for their final three years.
That is a difficult statement to verify, but a report by Chinese internet firm Tencent found that China's primary and secondary education market was worth 255 billion yuan annually ($53 billion).
That's still less than the value of Australia's iron ore exports to China, which topped $57 billion last financial year.
But while iron ore demand is set to fall this year, spending on education is forecast to rise in line with consumer spending which is growing at around 7 per cent.
However, more than 200 joint programs, involving Australian universities and TAFE colleges, reported registration difficulties amid growing evidence that China has introduced a cap on foreign partners.