They’re quintessentially British institutions, known for their first-class education and affording pupils the very best opportunities. So, why are the UK’s independent schools looking to expand and develop their brands overseas? And what does it mean for prospective students?
There’s no denying that this expansion has turned into a phenomenon. According to ISC Research, 73 independent UK schools are currently operating foreign branches, teaching over 44,900 children. In the 2017-18 academic year, they raised $833.5 million from fees alone.
While famous names such as Harrow, with its outposts in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Bangkok, and Marlborough, with a branch in Malaysia, have led the way, other schools are now following. Kings College School, Wimbledon opened two Chinese schools, one in Wuxi and one in Hangzhou, in September 2018, with Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh opening in Shenzhen.
Commenting on these new openings, ISC Research’s Richard Gaskell says, “It is meeting the aspirations of many families today: to provide the best possible educational opportunities for their child while keeping them close to home until they are well prepared to independently move overseas for their tertiary education.”
While benefitting pupils in these countries, the Independent Schools Council says that such expansions have become vital for their parent institutions. "International franchise schools run by UK-based ISC schools help to fund bursaries for lower-income families in the UK, widening access to independent schools,” according to ISC chairman Barnaby Lenon.
Independent schools have found themselves under increasing pressure from the government to widen their reach, with 75 per cent of them enjoying tax breaks thanks to charitable status. That status means they must show proven benefit to the public. Hence them opening overseas franchises as new revenue streams.
There’s a wider, geopolitical reason behind the expansions, too. An ISC report on the impact of independent schools on the UK economy, conducted by Oxford Economics in 2018, found that the increasing number of British overseas schools helped foster so-called ‘soft power’ in the field of international relations.
“Many of these schools recognise the desires of local parents and governments to offer children a bi-cultural education that respects their heritage yet prepares them in the best possible way for a global future,” says Richard Gaskell.
“These schools not only generate income for the parent school,” adds Gaskell, “but increase enrolment opportunities and raise global awareness of the school brand.”
Caroline Drewett who is founder and director of Coast to Coast, an international education company that works with governments, charities and private educational institutions, also points out, “Regardless of the political situation in Europe with Brexit or in the future, Asia will remain an exciting place for people to invest in British international schools. One reason why a British education remains so desirable is that it has stood the test of time, with schools surviving world wars and political upheavals.” She goes on to explain, “Too often in the UK education is easily mixed with a certain political outlook, or with a sense that one must justify why they have chosen a private school over the state system.”
With British international schools offering a model of education that stands out against competitors from other international schools around the world, there appears to be little let-up. More overseas British independent schools are in the pipeline, with King’s College School readying a Bangkok sister school for opening in September 2019. The sector is going from strength to strength.
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