New Oriental fires 60,000 staff in 2021

The former education giant will invest in art, language, adult education, study abroad, e-commerce and movies.

Photo from CFP

Photo from CFP

By ZHA Qinjun


New Oriental is the latest Chinese education company making its woes public. The company laid off many employees last year as revenue fell by 80 percent.

On January 9, founder YU Minghong reviewed the tough year of 2021 but somehow remained upbeat. "We fought very hard together in the past six months. Not only did New Oriental survive, but our core values and strengths are also unscathed," he said, an opinion probably not shared by the 60,000 laid-off staff last year.

New Oriental closed its highly profitable K9 business when off-campus schools turned into nonprofits or closed, coughing up 20 billion yuan (US$3.1 billion) in refunds, severance packages, and penalties. Shares are down 90 percent from 2021 highs in February.

New Oriental says it will stay in education but shift focus to art, language, and adult education and expand services to students seeking to study abroad, especially to previously underserved groups such as vocational school students and art students. It will also invest more in postgraduate education and Chinese as a foreign language.

A bigger and more notable move is a venture into agriculture. Yu loves to tell stories of growing up in a poor village and wants to connect farmers with buyers nationwide. Yu debuted the business with a 3-hour live streaming session on December 28. In that session, he managed to shift  5 million yuan of products but sold less than 1 million in the week that followed.

New Oriental made a movie last year and Yu wants to make more. "Every business is looking for new opportunities. We will do what we think is right in times of great uncertainty. Markets and policies may change, but there's always value in helping people and helping society."

Shares fell from around US$6 per share to less than US$2 when the off-campus school ban was announced and have been hovering around that level since. New Oriental closed at US$1.86 on January 7.