According to Nick Morrison, writing in Forbes.com ‘international schools have been one of the biggest success stories of the early 21st century, with their reach now extending to almost every corner of the globe.’ There are now 4.6 million students attending more than 8,600 international schools, covering almost every country in the world, according to market analysts ISC Research. One key driver that has transformed the market which traditionally catered for the expatriate families, is the phenomenon of local students joining classes. With countries like Malaysia and Vietnam lifting caps on those local students joining international schools there has been a huge surge in demand and enrolment. Morrison reported that Malaysia lifted its cap in 2012, with the result that enrolments in international schools have more than doubled in five years, from 29,000 to 71,500. Now Vietnam has followed suit, in what is a major development for the international schools’ market.
Looking more closely at China, Relocate magazine (2017) outlines how the international-schools market has developed significantly in recent years. It highlights the success of those particularly offering access to local children with several UK independent schools opening institutions. Dulwich College led the way in 2004 and now has four schools, two in Shanghai and one each in Beijing and Suzhou. It was followed in 2005 by Harrow, which now has schools in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Wellington College also now has two schools – one in Tianjin and one in Shanghai. King’s College School Wimbledon is working with a Chinese partner to open two schools in Wuxi and Hangzhou (near Shanghai) in September 2018. However, it remains a challenging landscape for those schools opening and looking to expand in Asia, and in China particularly. It is a landscape which requires very careful negotiation and a clear understanding and respect for culture and awareness of the local government’s policies towards international schools and wider education. In Shanghai, for example, there has been an attempt by local government to crack down on the opening of new schools, and right across China there have been some restrictions placed on dual language schools. The focus for international schools looking to establish themselves in China now is in the kindergarten and pre-school age group and those at grade 10 and above (age 15/16 in UK). This may prove difficult in the long term for international schools as Chinese parents may be less keen to purchase a bi-lingual education which has to stop at age 5/6 and cannot resume until after age 15/16. However, there continues to be an increasing demand by Chinese and Asian families for Western-style education taught in the English language, and so different types of international school are emerging to cater specifically for these students. It remains a challenging landscape, but with an ongoing demand it is expected that many international schools will continue to actively look at identifying opportunities and ways to further open up this educational market.