India and China fuel British international school surge

Data from ISC Research shows that, despite the pandemic, international schools have maintained growth over the past 12 months

Dan Worth

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The international schools market has maintained growth over the last 12 months despite the impact of the pandemic, with British international schools especially in demand.

Data from ISC Research, unveiled at the COBIS Conference, showed that between January 2020 and April 2021, the number of international schools worldwide rose modesty by 0.2% from 12,193 to 12,221.

This meant the number of students in international schools rose by 0.9 per cent from 5.58 million to 5.65 million and staff numbers have increased from 525,500 to 548,000.

Overall this means fees to international schools have risen by 2.3 per cent from $50.9 billion (£36 billion) to $52.7 billion (£37.3 billion).

Nalini Cook, head of EMEA Research at ISC Research said that, despite this growth, the sector had clearly been impacted by the pandemic – but all signs suggest it would recover quickly.

“We've seen fewer international schools opening than were originally planned for September 2020 –some openings have been delayed by a year and others for longer still,” she said.

“However, there are still regular announcements being made of future international support plans around the world so we're expecting openings to pick up again in the next 12 months and beyond.”

The British boom

British international schools, though, have fared far better as a subset of the international market, with the number of schools rising from 5,551 to 6,090 - an increase of 6.4 per cent. (The fact the larger overall market only grew by 28 schools is explained by the fact some schools will have closed or stopped being an 'international' school)

Within the British Intenrational market though, the notable growth also led to:

  • Student numbers rising from 2.5 million to 2.76 million
  • Staff numbers increasing from 235,100 to 268,000
  • Fee income rising from $21.9 billion (£15.5 billion) to $24.3 billion (£17.2 billion)

This growth is being driven particularly in India and China, where enrolment growth for 2020-21 was 17 per cent and 14 per cent respectively. This means there are now 202,500 pupils enrolled in China and 266,500 in India – with the United Arab Emirates still top, with 295,200 enrolled.

“In both India and China, growing local middle-class populations are increasingly able to afford to send their children to an international school and there's a strong preference for a British-style education,” said Cook.

“In India, over 60 per cent of international schools follow the Cambridge curriculum and in China, there are now 91 British Independent School brand campuses operating – with at least another 43 in the pipeline, showing just how in demand a British education is in these two countries.”

In China, this growth meant the average fees for schools has risen by 5.7 per cent over the past year alone - more than the previous five years' average growth of 3.4 per cent, underlining just how strong the market has been there.

However in India, despite also being hugely in demand, average fees actually fell by 0.8%. Other nations such as Nigeria (down 5 per cent) and Indonesia (down 3.5 per cent) also fell, showing not every international school will have experienced the same economic course through the pandemic.

Indeed, despite this growth across the sector, Cook said there are situations where families have struggled to pay fees – which is having a major impact on some schools.

“Families have struggled to keep up with school fee payments recently, which has resulted in a number of schools facing income management challenges,” she said.

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Future plans

Looking to the future, it seems clear most schools are keen to ensure the lesson learned over the past 12 months translates into new ways of working and teaching and learning.

“Access to skilled IT staff is considered absolutely essential by a number of schools, and very important by the majority, [while] a reliable comprehensive virtual learning platform is now an essential priority, where perhaps it was once considered a nice add on," said Cook.

“The training of all staff and the use of these platforms and how to use online learning is absolutely essential [as] many schools are now adapting their long term pedagogy to one of blended or hybrid learning.”

Dan Worth is senior editor at Tes

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