COVID-19 and Chinese students in the UK – Gaston Chee speaks to China Youth Daily and Economic Information Daily

As the current global COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect every aspect of our lives across the globe, many young Chinese students studying in the UK are facing special challenges. China Youth Daily (one of the top national newspapers in China dedicated to promoting social progress and youth development with over a million copies in print each day and distribution in over 4o countries) and Economic Information Daily (China’s first national economic newspaper) recently conducted an interview with Gaston Chee, CEO of LC Venture, the investor company of BeGo Education. During the interview, Gaston discussed some uncommon difficulties faced by young Chinese overseas students in the UK and their parents during the epidemic and how BeGo is helping them to deal with this situation.

Below is the full content of the interview. To read the full extent of the interview in Chinese, you can follow the link here:

Could you talk a little bit about how BeGo Education help children and parents in the UK, particularly in handling the visa extension issue?

Mr. Gaston Chee:Due to our close working relationship with the UK Home Office, we were able to support Chinese students with their visa matters.

For family members who are under our care who wanted to extend their stay in the UK while accompanying their children, we ensure that their visa application gets through to the right channels and help prepare all documentation needed for the extension. This is important as the visa needs to be processed under the right category (i.e. Parent of a Tier 4 child visa) and schools need to be kept informed and all relevant travel records updated. Parents who failed to notify the Home Office accordingly may find themselves in an unwanted position later (i.e. illegally overstayed) and get penalised and fined. They may also be unable to renew their visa and face being banned from re-entering the UK. We also ensure that we keep in close communication with all the families we serve and update their travel records accordingly and help them file the correct application with the Home Office.

For the students who are facing problems with their student status and future visa status, what role does can BeGo Education play to assist in communicating with program directors and admission directors to ensure that their studies will continue smoothly?

Mr. Gaston Chee:Before PM Boris Johnson formally announced that all schools across England will be shut down, we had to act as a mediator for students who needed to return home to China, and inform the schools as to why Chinese parents are taking such measures. This required communication to emphasise cross-cultural understanding and sensitivity. On one hand, we have Chinese parents who are very worried about the safety and welfare of their one and only child in the UK, especially with the many reported racial discrimination, xenophobic and physical attacks Asian students. See here:

Chinese parents would also prefer their children to return home to China, where they feel it is safer due to the stricter controls in place (e.g. mandatory requirement for wearing protective face masks). However, the schools, which at that point had not been informed by the UK government about the closure, were unable to grant permission for leave. If an application was either not put in properly to the school or if communication was not dealt with professionalism and the students just went home without formally getting the required the school’s permission, they would find that their study is compromised and risk having their student visas revoked. Nonetheless, we were able to step in and effectively communicate the concerns of Chinese parents. Seeking the school’s understanding and empathy and bridging the cultural gap. We supported their application to go through so that schools agreed with their decision to leave and the students’ grades would not be negatively affected due to absenteeism. We keep all communication records on file and ensure that the interest of the student and the family is well protected and their study plans remain as normal as possible under these circumstances. We will also request the school to upload all lessons online and we will assign the student with a dedicated teacher who would support the transition to online learning.

Currently, classes are required to be carried out online. What measures has BeGo Education put in place to ensure that students transit smoothly from live learning to a virtual classroom without compromising learning efficiency?

Mr. Gaston Chee:The switch from classroom learning to online isn’t easy. Replacing regular face-to-face learning to virtual classroom presents its own exceptional challenges. Children, depending on their age and learning ability might be “present” online (i.e. logging into their virtual classroom) but struggle to concentrate as they are not familiar with such learning method. That is why we decided to assign each of our families with a dedicated academic advisor whose experience with online teaching and e-learning is verified. Our academic advisor’s follow-up with each child and every family to ensure that virtual learning and online lessons are implemented effectively. Besides, our academic advisors are bi-lingual and familiar with the British education system. Most of them are also certified by the British Council. Therefore, they were in a position to support our Chinese parents.

Additionally, not everyone (adult and children alike) is tech-savvy, and some online learning portals are less user friendly compared to others. Therefore, we had to ensure our academic advisors and staff remain in touch with the schools, including maintaining close communication with the schools IT department to support the learning process. 

We also sent out study tips and e-newsletters via emails subscriptions and through our official WeChat account (BeGoEdu) to parents, teaching them how to keep learning for their children ‘alive’ online and supporting families during this adjustment process. Additionally, we also launched an online mental health and care programme where parents and students could discuss sessions with certified therapists and counsellors.

Many Chinese parents are bringing their children back home to China and they plan to apply for international schools. How can BeGo help these students apply for re-admission to international schools in China to avoid a gap in their studies?

Mr. Gaston Chee:Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on the 12th of March, many countries are struggling to cope with the spread of the virus. With many Chinese parents rushing to bring their kids home, we’ve witnessed a surge among families of returning student looking to placing their children at international schools in China. This is something BeGo specialises in and it is a service the company has been providing for years. Therefore, we communicate with the school in the UK to discuss how this could be carried out with least disturbance to the student’s learning and study and whether it will have any negative impact on the students and assess all its implications before getting in touch with the international schools in China. Decisions to proceed would then be advised to the concerned family after conducting a thorough assessment and having spoken to all parties involved, including with the headmaster or headmistress of the school in the UK, head of the academic departments/faculties and personal tutors of the respective student. These decisions are very crucial and are not taken lightly. Our teams of academic advisors and the education team would then re-evaluate the student’s IDP (Individual Development Planning) and IEP (Individual Education Planning) to find the best fit international schools in China for each student.

The tuition fees are generally high since most of the Chinese students studying in the UK attend private schools. However, during the suspension period, fees are still too high, with reduction only as high as of 20% to 30%. As a result, a lot of parents are considering submitting insurance claims for a tuition refund. What experiences and advantages does BeGo have in providing these parents with the most appropriate insurance plans?

Mr. Gaston Chee: When a family chooses BeGo, we look after all aspects of their educational needs. This means that all our students are automatically covered by our bespoke insurance that has been tailored made for our clients and their children. When preparing an individual study plan for a student, a comprehensive protection plan is also essential. This is an area usually ignored by education companies’ and consultancies or usually outsourced to small operators and insurance brokers. 

However, this usually overlooked task requires a lot of work into finding the most comprehensive coverage for students, and only professionals who are familiar with the insurance policy are best placed to advise these families. At BeGo, we go through all policies word by word including all the fine prints to ensure that only the most comprehensive coverage plan is taken out. The insurance policy we help provide our families includes an extensive cover including health and accident, damage to property, personal liability and other unexpected losses during the study journey, including cancellation & curtailment and natural disaster coverage. 

We have successfully helped families who are affected by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus to process claims under our insurance, including course fees and transport-related claims such as flight tickets for students returning to China. All in all, we do not just look into your child’s learning activity, admissions and life after arriving in the UK, but we are also there during times of crisis and hardships.

Some international students returned home in haste and they were unable to either ensure the safety of their belongings or even if their accommodations would available for them. Have you had incidents where parents needed support with their children’s arrangement in the UK apartment/dormitory when they are away, so as to ensure their students’ future accommodation in their schools or the safety of their belongings?

Mr. Gaston Chee:Some of our students are boarding at the school, while the others are day students living outside with their parents. As I also mentioned before, when the outbreak of COVID-19 just began across globally, some parents were worried about their children’s safety and arranged for them to return China right away before the UK government officially announced the closure of all schools. To ensure the benefit of our families, we needed to fully communicate with them about their decision for the unoccupied room during this special period, as well as contact the school and accommodation operators as soon as possible to discuss the follow-up arrangements. Currently, we have started to help students deal with the room stuff they didn’t take away and claim from the insurance should their condition fit the policies. For families who want to reduce the loss, we have also started to arrange releasing and other backup options.

Some parents have chosen to keep their children in the UK, fearing they might be infected on the way home. What kind of services does BeGo provide to help ensure their children’s physical and mental health in the UK during this difficult period of time?

Mr. Gaston Chee: Because we work with many students who are minors, we have expanded our services to incorporate arranging for UK homestay and guardianships. We work with AEGIS – accredited and certified guardianship providers that offer the most comprehensive and trusted guardianship services to our families. BeGo specifically works with UK top guardians with decades of experience, ensuring that the students are very well looked after during their stay in the UK. 

We had always recognised the diverse mental health problems that are associated with studying abroad. BeGo Education has been working closely with counselling offices at schools and special counsellors who are qualified to provide the much need support in looking after the mental and emotional wellbeing and help students deal with anxieties and cultural shock associated with being placed in the UK schools and universities.  

After the COVID-19 outbreak and following reports of incidents of Asian students being targeted and abused, we alerted teachers and guardians and host families of the situation and reminded them to ensure the safety of our students in the UK. The guardianship bodies and the AEGIS came to be handy in protecting our students from isolated incidents of abuse and xenophobia. We ensured that student counsellors maintained constant communication with students, ensuring that they remain safe and calm and at ease during these difficult times. On this occasion, we would like to commend the work of AEGIS in requesting to implement safeguarding restrictions in place to ensure the safety of our students ensuring that students travel in groups with a trusted and responsible adult and making sure that host families and teachers remain extra vigilant.

At this critical time, what word of advice to you have for those parents and children on behalf of BeGo Education as a lead investor in international education?

BeGo is approaching its 10th year of operation in China. During those years, the company has come to really understand and appreciate the realities of the Chinese public and its deep roots manifested through its value system. We have come specially to respect the great value that is put on education and we have always found it a joy to serve the Chinese public in educating and empowering what it holds very dear and near – its children. However, our services are much more than academic. The great English philosopher and prominent sociologist Herbert Spencer said that the great aim of education is not knowledge but action. Hence, we had always remained vigilant in ensuring that we look for opportunities to give back to the public. 

When the COVID-19 hit the country, we were among the first companies to set up a relief team to support initiatives that were put in place to source the much-needed supplies to Wuhan, the hard-hit city and epicenter of the breakout. Through our contacts in the UK and abroad and the BeGo family network, we were able to ensure that much-needed supplies were sourced, collected and dispatched in time to the frontlines. 

To ease the parent’s pressure and show solidarity with the people of Wuhan, we opened up our premium online classes and launched free online classes to students from Wuhan. BeGo staff were on duty throughout the outbreak of the epidemic to ensure that these online classes remain effective and some have even volunteered to help in communication channels to support the government and the public efforts to fight the outbreak. Even when the situation started to become significantly better in China, some of our parents approached us to use our channels to the UK to donate masks in a show of support to the UK governments efforts to battle COVID -19.

In conclusion, BeGo has over the years forged itself as much more than an education company. We firmly believe that BeGo is so much more than just an education company because we care for China.

It is exactly at such a critical moment that BeGo can become the extended arm of the family, taking advantage of its all-round, forward-looking and international industry insights and expertise to help the parents and students through difficulties, and become a unique and uprising force in China.

During the interview, Gaston Chee continued to express his sincere concern for the students studying in the UK and their parents and discussed his long-term perspectives on education, which well-illustrated the belief of BeGo that “success from studying abroad” is greater than “success in studying abroad”. Especially during this period of time, while paying close attention to the pain points of students studying in the UK, BeGo looked forward to helping every one of them by taking advantage of the expertise of its team.

If you are currently facing difficulties or any other problems due to the pandemic, please contact our offices in Beijing and the UK. Please scan the QR Code below to join the excellent team of BeGo parent WeChat group (XiaoBiJun) and someone will be in touch with you soon.