Update | WSET suspends China activities, releases update

UPDATE:  A statement has been released on WSET’S WeChat account–and viewed 24,000 in the first two hours alone. See the full post here.

“With great regret WSET has to announce that, due to administrative issues, we have put our activities in China temporarily on hold. We have also recommended that WSET course providers in China pause all their WSET-related activities, including all courses and exams.

“We are currently taking urgent steps towards a solution that will allow us to resume our activities in China as soon as possible. We are proactively communicating with the relevant authorities to resolve the matter. We will be working closely with WSET course providers to minimise any impact on WSET students and alumni and will keep them posted on any progress. Current students should contact their course providers with any enquires related to their WSET courses or exams.

“We are very proud of the role WSET has played in empowering drinks professionals and enthusiasts in China through wine, spirits and sake education over the last 15 years. We remain committed to the Chinese market.”

One independent wine educator told me on Saturday, she had already been contacted by many wine and spirit education companies about providing courses.  More updates to come.


School’s out?

Chinese social media is buzzing about reports that courses by WSET / Wine & Spirit Education Trust are suspended.

China, along with the US and UK, has long been a top-three market for WSET, self-described as an “independent, not-for-profit organisation” with “over 900 Approved Programme Providers (APPs) working in over 70 countries and in 15 languages.”

Sifting through numerous articles on the topic, the gist seems to be WSET is not registered in mainland China — it opened a Hong Kong office in 2016 — and thus on shaky ground, including in terms of course material approval, when cooperating with educators here, especially those running courses for profit. We’ll know more after WSET responds.

WSET head Ian Harris is cited in the articles as telling education providers that the UK-based organization is working with Chinese authorities to resume activities. There was no official statement from Harris at time of writing about the exact nature of the situation.

There are lots of students and potential students in China. During its 50th anniversary, WSET reported a record 108,557 candidates for the 2018/2019 academic term, with 18,206 from China, second only to the UK. During the COVID-struck 2019/2020 term, China remained a top-three market.

Prices per course vary based on provider. One lists a three-day level two course, which involves tasting dozens of wines, at CNY4800. Another charged CNY6200 for the.level two course. Etc. These are no small sums.

Expect a statement from WSET soon. In the meantime, it makes one wonder where consumers would turn for eduction if the WSET suspension were sustained — much as people wonder what wines might replace Australian labels in the wake of high Chinese tariffs.

Woud people turn to more online courses? Hope to study abroad? Find alterative classroom-based options, including locally produced ones, here in China? In terms of the latter, just as Chinese wine producers have boosted quality and want more market share, there must be wine educators who see similar opportunity with a homegrown product.

I’ll update this post when I have more details.

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