As the international schools market continues its expansion, ICEF Monitor reviews some riveting statistics as well as the growth drivers behind the trend.
International school enrolment by the numbers
Researchers Mary Hayden and Jeff Thompson noted in their authoritative 2008 paper “International Schools: Growth and Influence” that it is difficult to know how many international schools exist at any given time. There was even disagreement on what constituted one. But in the broadest sense, an international school follows a curriculum different from that of the country in which it resides.
Nicholas Brummitt, founder and managing director of International School Consultancy (ISC) Research Ltd., unveiled research pegging the total number of English-medium international schools at 6,533.
Not only are new schools continually opening, but their ranks also grow whenever existing schools convert to an international curriculum, begin instruction using a foreign language (usually English), or open a satellite campus in another country. The rate of growth for 2011-2012 was 6.7%, and the twelve-year expansion rate has been an astounding 153%.
Such massive growth defies current economic trends but seems set to continue. Brummit predicted at the most recent International Schools and Private Education Forum:
“Based upon the continuing market demand, within 10 years (by 2022), the number of international schools will expand to 11,331, the number of students will increase to 6.2 million, the number of staff to 529,000, and the annual fee income will reach almost US $60 billion.”
Right now, there are 20 countries that contain 100 or more international schools. United Arab Emirates contains 391 by itself (at the time of writing). Of the global total, 54% of international schools are operating in Asia. Below is a partial global tally of the number of schools in some of the top nations around the world:
Asia and Middle East
• 391 international schools in United Arab Emirates
• 346 international schools in Pakistan
• 342 international schools in China
• 320 international schools in India
• 221 international schools in Japan
• 181 international schools in Saudi Arabia
• 174 international schools in Indonesia
• 168 international schools in Hong Kong SAR
• 164 international schools in Thailand
• 119 international schools in Qatar
• 112 international schools in Malaysia
• 190 international schools in Spain
• 174 international schools in Germany
• 148 international schools in Netherlands
• 103 international schools in France
• 100 international schools in Switzerland
• 98 international schools in Sweden
• 43 international schools in United Kingdom
• 159 international schools in Egypt
• 105 international schools in Nigeria
• 146 international schools in Argentina
• 113 international schools in Mexico
• 75 international schools in Brazil
• 55 international schools in the United States
• 46 international schools in Colombia
• 71 international schools in Australia
• 42 international schools in New Zealand
Of course, international schools tend to thrive in countries where English is not the native language, particularly due to demand from expatriate families, however enrolment is still robust at such schools in the US and the UK. Michael Graham, a researcher at ISC, shared their figures with ICEF Monitor as follows:
“According to our records, there are 18,700 students studying at international schools in the UK and 27,300 in the USA. However a substantial number of those students at UK schools are UK citizens and a substantial number of those students at US schools are US citizens; they just happen to be studying at schools which are classified as international schools. Furthermore, there are a lot of international students in the UK who aren’t studying at international schools.”
While English-language instruction predominates at international schools, it’s worth noting that other countries have a presence in the market as well. France is one example. Entirely French instruction is offered at institutions like École Française Internationale in Canton, China, École internationale de Carthage in Tunisia, and Lycée Marguerite Duras in Vietnam. There are also French international schools that teach bilingually in English and French in the UK and US.
Over the past four years the international school market has seen not just explosive growth, but rapid evolution, as a larger number of institutions are run for profit, corporate involvement has increased, and there has been an increased consumer demand for digital delivery.
Demographic growth drivers
International schools arose as a method for educating the children of internationally mobile families, and as recently as 30 years ago places at such institutions were still filled by a high percentage of expatriates. That trend has totally reversed. Today, locally born residents fill about 80% of spaces in international schools and drive about two thirds of the market expansion.
But in some places, expatriates are making their presence felt. With more than 15,000 British and almost 30,000 American expats living in Hong Kong after a recent influx, international schools there have struggled to find enough places for students, this despite the presence of 168 schools on the island.
Brummitt cited both local and expat influence on growth in a November interview with Re:locate Magazine:
“The next ten years will, without doubt, see dramatic growth in the international schools market, and this demand continues to come from the expanding expatriate market and the increasing number of wealthy local families who are recognising the benefits of an English-medium education for their children.”
The growth Brummitt mentioned is easy to track. Consider the 342 international schools in China, as noted above. Now for a fuller picture, consider the fact that 12 years ago there were only 22.
In Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and elsewhere, government funded efforts have resulted in the development of entire international education hubs.
Malaysia provides an example of coordinated governmental effort on this front. The Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education hopes to attract at least 200,000 international students to the country’s English-language EduCity hub by the year 2020. To that end, the government formulated an Economic Transformation Programme, which consists of regulatory changes and a package of tax incentives. Companies that establish new international schools, or existing international schools that undertake expansion, are eligible to apply for an investment tax allowance of 100% on the qualifying capital expenditure incurred within a period of five years.
Other types of growth drivers
Demographics is one driver, and tightly linked to that is profit. China’s Oxford International College, to raise one example, charges as much as 260,000 Renminbi – about US $42,000 – for one year of prep-style classes. Profit potential in Asia helped draw a number of Western preparatory schools and universities east. Globally, there are now more than 200 international branch universities granting degrees.
The entire international school market is thought to be worth just north of US $30 billion. As noted above, Brummitt predicts that, if the current trend holds, annual fee income could hit US $37 billion by 2015, and US $60 billion by the year 2022.
Yet a third driver for international school growth is their perceived role in feeding talent into the host nation’s economy. While primary and secondary level international schooling is often seen by families in developing nations as a precursor to university overseas, governments are promoting international schooling as a way to fight brain drain by keeping bright students in country.
Prices are up and spaces are down
ISC Research points out that international schools cater to the richest 5% of the non-English speaking world. That will remain true for a while, since fees have been rising across the board due to insufficient places at international primary and secondary schools. The crunch has hit both locals and expats. In Malaysia waiting lists are common, and in Hong Kong some expatriate families have left due to lack of places, according to the Telegraph.
Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha also are all currently facing pressure for school places. According to a more recent article, the problem is so bad that some expatriate families are demanding security of school places before accepting new job placements.
Places are so coveted that parents have even resorted to fraud. In November 2012 in South Korea, 47 parents were charged with admission fraud at international schools. Because South Korean students can only be enrolled at international schools if one of their parents is a foreign national, parents had obtained fake documentation from as far away as Latin America and Africa.
In a compliance-related move, the South Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology announced in October that it would audit all existing international schools to determine if students were taught who failed to meet enrolment requirements.
Quality fueling the growing trend
In any exploding market questions of quality can arise, but so far incidents have been rare.
Brummitt points out that, “The growing trend to send local children to international schools is based on the quality of teaching and learning that many of these schools provide, coupled with an understanding by local wealthier families of the value of an English-medium education.”