A British education abroad

In a brand-conscious world, the British school brand takes some beating says Richard Gaskell, Schools Director at ISC Research

Twenty years ago, the only way that a family in China, India, or most other countries could get a British education for their child was to pack them off to boarding school in the UK. A lot has happened since then. Western university has become an educational route for an increasing number of students regardless of their country of origin, international schools offering British curriculum and qualifications have opened up in many major cities (over 2,000 in fact), and British independent school brands have done so too – and demonstrated to the world that the British school brand is in very high demand.

As a result of this increased choice of K-12 education closer to home, local aspirational parents are seeking out the school that provides their child with, what they consider to be, the best possible pathway to Western higher education. The wealthiest of these, and those who want the academic prestige and extensive opportunities that a British independent school can give its students, are signing their child up to the likes of Wellington College Bilingual Shanghai and Harrow International School Hong Kong the moment they are born. 

The export of the British independent school brand was led by Harrow, Shrewsbury, Dulwich and Brighton College; all within the last 10 years. These schools now have significant reputations abroad, particularly in Asia where the demand for high-quality, English-medium education is greatest. Many others, including Malvern College, Repton School, North London Collegiate School and Cranleigh School have followed suit. 

Richard Gaskell visiting Wellington College Bilingual Shanghai

As countries develop, and with that new educational potential, so more brand export is inevitable. Myanmar, for example, will see Dulwich College open two campuses in Yangon for the 2017–2018 academic year. This will be the very first British independent school for this country. 

India is another example. The country is experiencing increasing demand for high-quality education. Right now, international schools in India with annual fees over USD$10,000 have, on average, 81.6% capacity. By 2020 this spare capacity is expected to be filled and by then, India’s private education market is predicted to have doubled in value. Not only that, but India’s population is growing at pace (over 28% of the total population is currently under the age of 14). By 2022, India’s population is forecast to match China’s – and then exceed it. All this suggests major international school development in India in forthcoming years. King’s College Taunton is ahead of the game. It opened King’s College India in Rohtak, north-west of Delhi, in 2016 to become the first British independent school in the country. Repton School has also now identified the potential and will be opening a school for three- to 18-year-olds in Bangalore in September 2018. More schools are expected to follow suit.

As for China, British independent schools there are frequently hitting the headlines. In September last year, the South China Morning Post reported China’s insatiable demand for expensive international schools. “Getting into China’s best public high schools can be monumentally difficult, but regardless of whether their child has the academic ability, many parents are opting to pay for what they see as a less stressful and more enriching experience at an international school,” it said. The news story highlighted Dulwich College which now runs schools for Chinese students in the eastern city of Suzhou and the southern city of Zhuhai, and Britain’s Hurtwood House which operates in association with Chinese private bilingual school HD Ningbo in the Zhejiang province. 

Repton School Dubai

Grace Shi represents one of a huge number of Chinese parents. Grace wants her son Alex to learn both Chinese and English through a Western learning approach that will gain him globally recognised qualifications. So, finding a bilingual international school in Shanghai, where the family lives, is her priority. But Grace is discovering that she should have planned sooner for such a school, even though Alex is still only 14 months old. 

“I signed Alex at one school when he was three months old,” she told me recently, adding: “I called the school a few weeks ago and was told Alex is still on the waiting list – at number 186! The Admission department at the school told me that I should have signed Alex up for the school as soon as I knew I was pregnant!”

As the South China Morning Post describes, there is an insatiable demand for quality Western education, particularly British, and it stretches far beyond East Asia. Within 10 years, ISC Research predicts that over 10 million students will be learning in international schools all over the world. 

For British independent schools, overseas brand expansion looks set to continue. But such development does come with its challenges. Each country has vastly different regulatory environments and demographics that influence the success of a new school. There may be complex school licensing procedures, restrictions for foreign direct investment, in some countries there are local student quotas, curriculum specifications, rigid inspection requirements, teaching licence regulations, and control on school fees. A local partner is obligatory in some countries, other times it can be beneficial, and finding that right partner is crucial. Other logistics such as brand protection, thorough due diligence, in-country expertise, commitment of resources and planning time, school structure, and hiring the right professional capital, all play a part in the success of a school’s brand expansion. 

International development looks very favourable for Britain’s independent schools – if you get it right.  

ISC Research (ISC) is the leading provider of data and intelligence on the international schools market. 

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