Market intelligence for international student recruitment from ICEF

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The growing influence of school groups in the international K-12 sector

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • School group are helping to drive global growth in the international K-12 school sector
  • Now representing nearly 5,000 schools and 2.2 million students worldwide, school groups now account for more than US$22 billion in school fees annually

A new analysis from ISC Research points to how the international school market is consolidating around a growing number of influential school groups. ISC defines a school group as one which “owns international schools that are part of the group or, has a financial interest in international schools by managing them or by providing key services to them without actually owning them.”

As we see in the tables below, the largest of these groups are made up of hundreds of schools enrolling collectively tens of thousands – or as many as 100,000+ – students each.

The largest school groups as of March 2022 by number of schools (left) and total student enrolment (right). Source: ISC Research

Taken together, the school groups identified by ISC generate an estimated US$22.3 billion in total fee income each year.

Given their current scale of operation, it is not surprising that school groups are playing an important role in the overall growth of the international schools sector. In mid-2017, ISC was tracking 333 school groups, representing more than 2,500 schools and a combined enrolment of 1.28 million students. As of the first quarter of 2022, those totals have grown to include 616 identified school groups with 4,861 schools and 2.18 million students.

This represents overall growth of roughly 70% for the school group segment over the last five years, with some groups growing quite a bit more quickly than that and combined fee revenues increased by about 63% during that same period. “Many international school groups expand through acquisition of existing international schools, or the acquisition of public schools that become international schools by a change in curriculum, language of learning, or both,” adds ISC.

School groups are also heavily involved in the development of new campuses with roughly two thirds (or 238 schools) of the 377 new schools currently in development known to be part of a school group.

Many of those groups have a regional or market focus. For example, nearly all (143 out of 144) schools operated by Grupo SEB are in Brazil. Other groups, meanwhile, have a more international footprint, such as Nord Anglia Education which operates schools in 31 countries.

“School groups and brands can be highly visible,” explains ISC, in noting that school groups have an important role to play in making or shaping the overall market. “They tend to maintain common policies for brand identity such as uniform and websites. They often have common policies around recruitment too. Many parents and teachers will be attracted to a school group or brand name they recognise…There is a perception of trust and security in a group or brand name, as well as a historical track record that can take many years for an individual school to develop and demonstrate.”

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