EDDi XXVI (In Conversation)

ISC Research Interview (Nov 2020)

In this third EDDi interview we are delighted to be able to offer you insights from arguably the most informed organisation in the world in terms of data and knowledge of international schooling:

ISC Research

If there is another organisation out there with more data on the world of International Schooling at its fingertips please let us know!

With Sam Fraser, Head of Field Research, ISC Research (supported by Anne Keeling, Communications Director, ISC Research)

WHAT IS ISC RESEARCH? WHAT DOES YOUR COMPANY ACTUALLY DO?

ISC Research tracks the world’s international schools market, gathering and supplying intelligence and data on developments, trends and shifts within the market.

ISC Research sells a data platform as well as in-depth reports and expertise to education suppliers, higher education, schools, investors and all types of organisations supporting international schools. The company was established in 1994 and has specialised in the international education sector since then.

SAM, WHAT IS YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND AND CURRENT ROLE IN ISC RESEARCH?

I am Head of Field Research at ISC Research and manage a team of skilled field-based researchers who gather the crucial data and intelligence directly from international school leaders and government bodies that inform the market reports and services supplied by ISC Research. I have worked at ISC Research as a field researcher for five years, focusing most of my time on the international schools markets in East and South East Asia, as well as the Europe region. I have recently relocated from Singapore to Kazakhstan.

Prior to joining ISC Research I worked with the international schools market in the Middle East so I have a very broad knowledge of the major sub-regions of the world for international schools.

HOW ISC HAS RESPONDED TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS AND ITS IMPACT ON OPERATIONS?

The COVID-19 crisis has been a hugely busy time for ISC Research. As the central organisation for data and intelligence on the international schools market, ISC Research was considered the source for knowledge on the impact to the market caused by the pandemic. Not only did we provide a weekly update on international school campus closures from March until August, we took a central role in sharing good practice publicly, and surveyed international schools for their responses to campus closures and the major challenges they faced. This included publishing reports on the impact of COVID-19 on international schools in the Middle East, and the impact of COVID-19 on the use of education technology by international schools around the world.

We have gathered intelligence from international school leaders throughout the crisis, adapting our knowledge sharing as the pandemic has progressed, and we continue to do so. We are currently gathering data from the schools to produce quantitative research on the impact of COVID-19 on international schools. By January we will have detailed data analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on the enrolment and staffing at these international schools.

CAN YOU SAY A LITTLE ABOUT THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE OF INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLING?

The international schools market has changed dramatically in the last thirty years. The traditional model of an international school in the 1990’s was either an embassy or community school, predominantly serving the dependents of western expatriate professionals. Schools would deliver a very nationalistic US or UK curriculum, and teach entirely in English.

Today this model has been rapidly replaced by a much broader range of school types, and curricula, including a growing number of bilingual schools, serving a wide range of student demographics, with expatriates from both the East and West, and a huge increase in the number of local children attending international schools.

The coronavirus has impacted the sector short-term, and most likely, long-term, too.

By how much, we are yet to know.

Impacts will certainly include enrolment and staffing during the 2020-2021 academic year, however the severity of the impacts associated with the pandemic will differ dependent on location and how governments have handled the crisis.

Early indicators suggest some international school regions are faring far better than others.

WHAT ARE THE PROJECTIONS AND TRENDS?

The market has seen major growth over the past twenty years. The number of schools have increased by 349% from 2,584 schools in the year 2000, to 11,616 international schools today (July 2020). The number of students aged between 3 and 18 attending international schools has increased by 518% in the same timeframe, from 969,000 in 2000 to 5.98 million students today. The total market income generated from school fees alone in 2000 was $4.9 billion (USD) and has increased by 1,002% to $54 billion (USD) today.

The international schools market is extremely diverse: school types exist related to teaching and learning models, admissions, fees and quality standards and with these come other trends too. 

Some governments insist on national students being followed related to culture, history, tradition and language provision. In addition, many parents want their child to value their home language and cultural heritage as well as becoming fluent English speakers. These factors are driving the demand, and resulting supply, of bilingual international schools which now represent one third of the international schools market.

Not unrelated, there is also higher demand, in a growing number of countries, for international schools with tuition fees that are affordable. This is partly because more local families are seeking out good, but reasonably priced international schools, and more expatriate families are having to fund their child’s education from their own salaries rather than have fees paid as part of a renumeration package.

This year for the first time, ISC Research will be publishing data on the mid-market international schools. This is a significant sector, and one that meets a need for a growing number of families.

The average annual fees for premium and mid-market international schools vary noticeably from country to country. With lower fees comes the likelihood of a higher ratio of students-to-teacher per class, fewer highly experienced international teachers, fewer facilities, and so on. Importantly though, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality of teaching and learning is any lower – just that the facilities and scale of operation may be different.

Another emerging trend is accreditation which is an important third-party testimony of adherence to standards. For many international schools this is particularly important because of no national inspection requirement for international schools in their country. Currently only 14% of the entire market is accredited. As more parents and more new recruits seek out accreditation as a benchmark of quality, so more international schools will likely work towards accreditation.

IN PERCENTAGE TERMS, WHICH ARE THE MOST POPULAR TYPES OF SCHOOLS (BRITISH, AMERICAN, IB ETC)?

52% of international schools are oriented towards a UK style of teaching and learning, 20% follow an International Baccalaureate programme, and 21% are oriented to a US style of teaching and learning.

Bilingual provision is considered an increasingly important requirement for international schools. It has grown in popularity, from 30% of international schools offering bilingual learning in 2012, to 33% in 2020. Some governments insist on national students who attend international schools in their home country receiving culture, history, tradition and language provision. Many parents too, want their child to value their home language and cultural heritage as well as becoming fluent English speakers. These factors are driving the demand, and resulting supply, of bilingual international schools.

IN PERCENTAGE TERMS, WHICH ARE THE MOST POPULAR CURRICULA (A-LEVEL, IB ETC)?

A Level and International A Levels are currently the most popular exit examinations at international schools, offered by 17% of all international schools. IB Diploma is offered by 15% of all international schools and Advanced Placement is offered by 7% of international schools.

Note that of the 11,616 international schools in July 2020, 7,460 were offering secondary age learning and examinations.

International schools are currently setting very high standards, which is one of the success factors within the international schools market. On average, international school students are achieving a higher examination success level from their exit exams than the global average. For the 2019 examination year:

•       The average point score of the IBDP in international schools was 33.6 out of a maximum of 45. The global average for all IBDP students was 29.63

•       For the US Advance Placement qualification, out of a maximum grade of 5, international school students achieved an average AP exam score of 3.54 compared to a global average of 2.91

•       And for A Levels or International A levels, the percentage of A or A* grades for international students was 34% compared to the UK average of 25.5%

Grade scores are considered very important to many parents.

HAS THE CURRICULUM LANDSCAPE CHANGED IN ANY NOTABLE WAYS OVER THE LAST 5-10 YEARS (FOR EXAMPLE, GROWTH IN IB VIS-A-VIS GROWTH IN BRITISH CURRICULUM SCHOOLS)?

Choice of International Baccalaureate programmes and a US style of curriculum in international schools have remained stable in line with an increase in schools. The National Curriculum of England (particularly an adapted version that meets the context of an international school and location) and other international solutions such as the Cambridge curriculum have increased in popularity. More international schools are choosing hybrid models of teaching and learning that suit their host country and enrolment demographic.

IS THE BRITISH EDUCATION BRAND AS ASPIRATIONAL FOR ASIAN AND CHINESE PARENTS TODAY AS IT WAS, SAY, FIVE YEARS AGO?

The British education brand remains particularly popular throughout most Asian countries, particularly so in China.

This is most noticeable in the premium sector of the international school market where foreign independent brands from the United Kingdom are in high demand. Although this is still a small sector of the wider international schools market, it is a prominent one as the schools are highly prestigious and very visible within the city they are located. They offer an education option that many of the wealthiest, brand-conscious parents are seeking, which includes educational prestige, direct associations with many of the very best universities in Britain, and a very strong focus on academic success combined with the development of leadership qualities, powerful and long-lasting alumni, and high performing sports and arts programmes.

There are currently 75 such schools in China, 44 of which have their founding schools in Great Britain. Of these 44 British school brands in China, 33 of them are aligned with international Chinese-owned private schools meaning they are accessible to local Chinese children. The demand for these schools by wealthy aspirational parents is very high.

Enrolment at schools affiliated with British independent school brands in China has increased from 6,900 students in 2015 to 23,100 in 2020 and, even with a recent change to admissions arrangements for these schools that are accessible to local Chinese children, growth is likely to continue in this sector.

China is not alone with the growth in demand for British school brand presence. This is in particularly high demand in the global cities throughout East and South-Eastern Asia.

SOME INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL PROFESSIONALS ARE TALKING OF A "CULLING OF INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS' OVER THE NEXT YEAR OR TWO AS A RESULT OF COVID-19, WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THAT?

The general consensus is that, throughout school campus closures and the impact of COVID-19 on education, international schools have, on the whole, been delivering well-structured, resilient, and creative distance learning. This has been at higher standard than national schools, and, as a result, parents who can afford international school fees are considering them as more dependable.

In addition, as a result of the coronavirus, some families are proving to be more cautious about sending their child to an overseas boarding school, preferring to keep their child closer to home and sending them to their local international or private school instead.

However, international schools based in areas heavily invested in tourism, and those housing a transient population, are suffering more. Where international schools are dependent on the local market, campuses will likely cope better.

The economic impact of COVID-19 will of course reduce disposable income and choices; private education being one of them. We do know from previous crises that education is valued extremely highly by many families, particularly throughout Asia. During the recession following the global financial crisis of 2008, many parents kept their children in international schools even though they were financially impacted in other aspects of their lives.

We wait to see if this will be the case for today’s international schools market.

Our early research thus far indicates a vast contrast in fortunes at international schools with some reporting an increase in student numbers, whilst others suggest losing close to 30% of their cohort.

As ISC Research gathers enrolment data and intelligence for this new academic year (for schools following a Northern Hemisphere school year), we will gain more accurate understanding of this.

ISC Research will have reliable analysis of enrolment data by January 2021.

WHAT ARE YOUR GROWTH PROJECTIONS FOR THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL MARKET, GLOBALLY, OVER THE NEXT FEW YEARS?

ISC Research is not presenting growth projections at this time until more market data and intelligence has been gathered that enables us to understand the impact of COVID-19 on international schools. The market certainly faces some challenges, particularly related to staffing. There has been reports suggesting we may see a fall in the supply of international teachers worldwide. We will be collecting data and intelligence over the next few months to better inform this, but we already know that some international schools are having to be creative in their offerings to expatriate teachers to give them the support they need at this time (travel to home, opportunities to connect with their wider families, etc).

In recent years, many international schools have realised the importance of a blend of expatriate and local teachers within their staffing. Local teachers bring a knowledge and understanding of local culture and its approach to learning and teaching that impacts local students and their parents, as well as crucial language and host country context, while expatriate teachers bring a knowledge of curricula, different models of teaching and learning, formative assessment, and international perspectives. Approaches that enable all teachers to work together and learn from each other, including collaborative teaching, are proving to be increasingly valuable for students as well as teachers, but also for addressing the expatriate recruitment challenge that is expected to increase.

HOW FAR AWAY ARE WE FROM SEEING AFRICA EMERGE AS A MAJOR PLAYER IN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLING, ESPECIALLY NIGERIA?

The international schools market in Africa has remained relatively small to date, with 1,219 international schools across the region teaching 461,100 students.

Nigeria is currently the leading country for international education in Africa with 323 international schools teaching 100,600 students mostly seeking a British curriculum and qualifications.

Looking ahead, based on current fertility rates and the growth in the school aged population, there will be far more students in the market over the next 30 years. In fact, the population will almost double by the year 2050 and will soon thereafter, become the third largest population on earth if statistics are accurate.

Assumptions are, that many multinationals will look to make good use of a young median age, and therefore investment will increase. International school demand over the next 30 years is therefore likely to grow substantially, particularly if there is purposeful economic reform.  

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE DECLINE OF THE WEST AND THE RISE OF ASIA (E.G. CHINA IS THE ONLY MAJOR ECONOMY STILL GROWING THIS YEAR) AND THE IMPACT OF THIS ON WESTERN BRANDED INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS?

Western education is revered throughout Asia for its focus on the development of the whole child and its pathway to global career success. While this reputation continues, and while English remains the language of global commerce, Western branded English-medium international schools will remain a popular choice for many parents in Asia.

CHINA RECENTLY OPENED ITS FIRST INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL IN DUBAI. DO YOU SEE THIS BEING REPEATED, GLOBALLY?

There are many Chinese nationals living and working across the globe and the Chinese government will be interested in seeing the growth of Chinese international schools overseas.

In China, Chinese nationals must attend a school offering the national curriculum between grades 1 through to 9. Where locals move abroad, no such rules are in place so Chinese parents are free to send their children to Western K-12 schools or equivalent. A number of parents send their child overseas purely to make use of a Western style curriculum in the hope that their child will have more chance of gaining a place at a top global university.

If growth is seen in Chinese international schools, it may well be that the government is in a position to regulate students overseas, where school places allow. There is a likelihood of demand for Chinese international schools but to what extent, we are yet to truly understand. The adoption of a bilingual Chinese (Mandarin)/English programme may be more beneficial in attracting students from the East and West alike.

So there you have it; an informed insider’s view on what is currently happening in the world of international schooling. The past decade has seen remarkable change and development and very likely this will continue, though first we need to get through this Covid-19 ‘hiccup’.


More details about ISC Research and its services are available at www.iscresearch.com


CORRECTION: An earlier edition of this piece incorrectly referred to ISC Research in the opening preamble. This version is updated to reflect correct usage of their registered brand name.


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The book covers:

what international schooling is, why it exists and what makes these schools different.

how to secure employment (and promotion).

contracts, regulations, and qualification requirements.

the skills you need to teach internationally.

third culture kids, global citizenship, safeguarding and wellbeing.

culture, surviving culture shock, and managing uncertainty for you and your family.

what to expect, what to avoid and how best to embrace the international adventure.

Whether you are new to this world or experienced, we examine the highs, the lows, the perks and the pitfalls of international schooling. For anyone aspiring to, new to, being recruited into, or currently enjoying international teaching, we hope you’ll find it enjoyable reading.

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