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Friday, 20 October 2017

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Is There a Collapse in International School Enrolment?

By Nick Brummitt


The question being asked most often this year is how much the global economic downturn is affecting international schools? Nick Brummitt, Managing Director of ISC Research, provides an overview of the market:

There will always be people trying to sensationalise the present global recession, but the reality is that the majority of international schools expect either to maintain or increase enrolment next academic year. Consider these facts: in the last eight years the number of English-medium international schools worldwide has more than doubled from 2,584 in the year 2000, to 5,232 at the present time; the number of students has doubled (from 988,630 to 2,102,981) and so has the number of staff (90,000 to 192,000). Further there has been, and continues to be, a serious shortage of school places in many parts of the world, for example in Hong Kong, Qatar and Switzerland.

There has been a distinct change in the nature of the international schools market in recent years in terms of the intake of its children. The early international schools were established for expatriate children and whilst there are more and more expatriates, the predominant growth in the demand for international school places today is from local families. As wealth increases, an English-medium education becomes very high on the list of priorities. This is especially true in Asia where education is valued extremely highly and parents will only withdraw their children from school as an absolute last resort. It is now widely accepted that there are tremendous opportunities for students who have attended international schools, with the world’s top universities consistently competing for the best students.

From the evidence gathered by ISC Research to date, relatively few schools have suffered a loss of enrolment so far. There have also been a number of surveys carried out, including one by AISH (the Academy of International School Heads) and another by COBIS (the Council of British International Schools). Both show that 47% of their schools expect enrolment in the 2009-2010 school year to stay the same, 32% and 37% respectively expect enrolment to increase, and only 21% and 16% anticipate a decrease.

It is the case that some schools, especially those heavily dependant on expatriate parents working for downsizing corporations, will suffer. This is especially true of those relatively few countries who do not yet allow their own children to attend international schools so that intake is almost entirely from expatriate families.

The highly accelerated growth of the past three years (62% increase in the overall number of schools) will abate to some extent and most heads of school are making contingency plans in case there is a drop in enrolment, but overall there is confidence throughout the market that most international schools will weather the financial storm and a significant number will continue to prosper. Significantly here are a great many new school projects in various stages of development.

The latest market data as well as online news, overviews and statistics are available at

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