More schools venture into new markets
News that two Independent schools announced new campuses in China during the Prime Minister’s visit, prompted us to look at the growing number operating overseas. In the past five years the number has increased from 20 to more than 60, with the majority located in the Middle East and mainland China. 2017 was significant, because it was the first year where the number of pupils attending overseas campuses (31,775), exceeded the number of non-British pupils attending UK ISC schools (27,281).
This is a great success story of overseas expansion in countries with a growing population, an affluent middle class and buoyant markets. This activity is no longer the preserve of big name boarding schools that started the trend. There are now many more day schools accessing this market. Reigate Grammar being one that signed up to open the first of five schools in China, during the Prime Minister’s visit.
There are risks involved, but the benefits are attractive. Franchising enables UK independent schools to benefit from the strength of their name, their history, and reputation, providing an opportunity to grow their brand internationally. We are a small island with a relatively small market. In a mature market with affordability becoming a barrier to purchase, competition to recruit becomes more intense every day, for both day and boarding. Opportunities that can be created to access growth markets world-wide, and give a competitive edge, are worth considering. Selling in international markets can command higher fees than selling at home, especially when dealing with a luxury UK made product – and being able to describe a school as an international brand increases it profile at home. Profits pay for bursaries in the UK, which is essential in maintaining the integrity of fee paying independent education, if it doesn’t want to be the preserve of the rich, especially for boarding.
As ministers seek to open up markets in the global race, they are calling on more Academies to establish schools overseas, and no doubt they will be competing more for this market too.
If establishing schools overseas is a step too far, introducing a home stay programme to recruit overseas pupils can increase sixth form numbers and revenue, especially for day schools that want access to new markets that are not available to their competitors. After MTC’s home stay seminar last term, at least two schools who attended are developing successful programmes.
Whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, the independent education sector has been quietly getting on with accessing international markets, and securing a stronger future for fee paying schools. It’s a great success story.