ISC News

The latest announcements on the international schools market from ISC Research


Demand for international school education continues to expand globally
Demand for international school education continues to expand globally

The total number of students aged between 3 and 18 enrolled in English-medium international schools in the Middle East continued to increase during the past academic year. This occurred even whilst bearing the brunt of the slump in the oil and gas market when many expatriate employees and their families were being sent home. The overall enrolment at international schools in the Middle East increased by 7.8% from September 2015 to September 2016.

Details of market developments, plus global and regional trends, and forecasts for the future of the market are available in the brand new 2017 Global Report on the K-12 international schools market published by ISC Research.

The report indicates that the Middle East has seen growth of 40.3% in the number of international schools in the region over the past four years (from 1,086 in 2012 to 1,524 in 2016), and enrolment growth of almost 50% from 947,000 in 2012 to 1.416 million in 2012. The United Arab Emirates continues to lead the world, with 593 international schools for 3 to 18 year olds meeting the learning needs of almost 600,000 students.

ISC Research has tracked the global K-12 international schools market since 1994 and its trends show an increasing demand around the world for education in the language of English, for a Western-style of learning, and high school qualifications that are recognised by the world's leading universities and multi-national companies. In the year 2000 there were fewer than one million students attending 2,500 international schools available globally; mostly for expatriate families. Five years ago (2011), these figures had increased to 3 million students learning at 6,000 schools in a much wider range of countries and attracting many more children of local families. The 2017 Global Report indicates that, as of December 2016, there were almost 4.5 million students attending over 8,600 international schools in virtually every country of the world, with the vast majority of student enrolment being local children aiming for higher education in the West.

The greatest percentage growth in regional enrolment at international schools during the 2015-2016 academic year was seen in East Asia where the number of students increased by 13%. This occurred primarily in China as a result of the growing demand for English-speaking learning and globally-recognised high school qualifications by aspirational Chinese families and the emergence of private Chinese-owned bilingual schools offering international learning to meet their needs.

This year has also seen some emerging markets. Myanmar, for example, is at the early stage of major economic development and is experiencing the start of a booming international schools sector. Other countries noted in the report with emerging international school markets include Peru, Colombia and India.

ISC predicts the market will continue to develop at a healthy pace, forecasting that within five years (2021) the number of students attending international schools will have reached 6.3 million. "An increasing number of local families are expected to seek out international school places as their reputation continues to expand," says Director for International Schools at ISC Research, Richard Gaskell. "Far from being seen as an option for elite and expatriate families only, many local families are investing in international schools to ensure their child has an English-speaking education with learning and qualifications that prepares them well for university."

Fees range from those that are affordable for middle-income families to those exclusive to only but the wealthiest. According to the Global Report, the average annual tuition fees at international schools in East Asia currently stand at USD $17,272 compared to USD $7,085 in the Middle East.

The biggest challenge for the market is professional capital; maintaining the high calibre of skilled, qualified teachers and leaders who are experienced in delivering Western-style curricula and qualifications. Right now the market is, on the whole, managing to attract enough suitable staff, mainly from such countries as Britain and the United States to meet the demand. But with the number of teachers working in international schools expected to increase from 426,200 today (December 2016) to 581,000 in 2021, the need to attract more teachers of the calibre demanded by both the schools and parents, is becoming an increasing concern for the whole market. "Some school groups and universities are now considering a variety of solutions to address the future demand," says Richard Gaskell. "Potential options include upskilling local teachers, remote top-up training, conversion courses, and more."

The 2017 Global Report on the English-medium international schools market is essential reading for schools, suppliers or professionals who wish to remain well informed on the market. ISC Research also publishes Market Intelligence Reports for key countries, statistical reports, benchmarking reports, an online data licence and also provides intelligence services, all of which support investment, development and strategic marketing within the international schools market.

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