BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


Demand for Western Ed Continues to Expand Globally

By Richard Gaskell
Demand for Western Ed  Continues to  Expand Globally

The total number of students aged between three and 18 enrolled in English-medium international schools in the Middle East and Southeast Asia continued to increase significantly during the past academic year. This occurred even while 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 enrollment at international schools in the Middle East increased by 7.8 percent from September 2015 to September 2016, and increased by 10.1 percent in Southeast Asia.
The greatest percentage growth in regional enrollment at international schools during the 2015–2016 academic year was seen in East Asia, where the number of students increased by 13 percent. This occurred primarily in China as a result of the growing demand for English-speaking learning and globally-recognized high school qualifications by aspirational Chinese families and the emergence of private Chinese-owned bilingual schools offering international learning to meet their needs.
The international schools market and how it has evolved
Details of all these market developments, plus global and regional trends, and forecasts for the future of the market have been published in the brand new 2017 Global Report on the K–12 international schools market published by ISC Research.
The international schools market includes British and American schools overseas, and schools in non-English-speaking-countries offering the International Baccalaureate and other international curricula for children from grades K to 12. ISC Research has tracked this market since 1994 and its trends show an increasing global demand for learning in the language of English (known as English-medium learning); a Western-style of learning that has moved away from the traditional didactic style (with the teacher delivering facts at the front of the classroom) to a more collaborative, creative, inquiry-based approach; and high school qualifications that are recognized by the world’s respected 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. Today (as of 20 December 2016), the ISC Global Report indicates there are almost 4.5 million students attending over 8,600 international schools in virtually every country of the world, with the vast majority of student enrollment being local children aiming for Western university.
Latest developments in the market
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. Dulwich College, the first international school in Myanmar with a direct link to a British independent school, will be opening two campuses in Yangon this year (September 2017) and the international schools already established in the country are experiencing healthy growth. 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. 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 US$17,272 compared to US$7,085 in the Middle East.
The challenge for the future of the market
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. 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. Potential options include upskilling local teachers, remote top-up training, conversion courses, and more.
Richard Gaskell is Director for International Schools at ISC Research (ISC), the leading provider of data and intelligence on the world’s international schools market. More information is available at or email Richard directly at [email protected].

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


04/11/2017 - done_it_all
With the increase of for-profit schools in Southeast Asia, both quality staff and even more important, quality leadership are unfortunately in short supply. Greedy owners are looking at packing in kids and making a fast buck by treating education like any other business entity.

Paying low salaries and hiring unqualified and inexperienced teachers or those who are past their sell-by date then not providing assessment, observation or professional supervision results in poor collaboration and low standards, not to mention high staff turnover. The losers are the students. A good school establishes its standards at the top, with a leader who exhibits major traits of intelligence, self-confidence, insight, determination, integrity and sociability. As a teacher who currently working for an insecure and weak "leader" who exhibits none of these traits is demoralizing for staff and is encouraging many of us to move on this year.



University Visits in a Post Covid World?
By Robbie Jefferiss
May 2021

A Ferry Crossing from Love to Loss and Back Again
By Kathleen Naglee
Apr 2021