The British school in the Netherlands. (Photo: ISC)

This article appears in Global Geneva’s December, 2018-February, 2019 Winter Print and E-edition.

It’s probably not immediately intuitive. But during the 2017-2018 academic year, 45 per cent of all students attending English-medium international schools in France were French. In Germany 48 per cent were German, and in Spain, 63 per cent were Spanish. In Switzerland, where certain cantons restrict local students from attending its international schools, 13 per cent of students were local Swiss.

It is clear that, apart from dissatisfaction with local public schools, many parents see an international education as the best way to prepare their children to take advantage of global university options and improve their career potential.

Is change on the way?

Some countries, such as China, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia have seen a huge growth in international schools in recent years. Chinese are even setting up second residences in places like Singapore and Bangkok in order to take advantage of the schools already there.

But the European market, currently some 1,759 schools, has seen little change. That’s not to say that the European market is not important. With exceptional schools and boarding facilities, and an extensive range of source countries from which to attract students, it has remained very prosperous and can charge some of the highest school fees in the world.

In recent years, Europe’s English-medium international schools market has been very healthy but static – experiencing very little expansion or new development. Rich parents from Asia and Russia are still happy to send their children to international schools abroad as boarders to give them the finest education that money can buy.

New political realities are having an impact

Lately, Europe’s current geo-political environment, influenced by both Brexit and US politics, combined with the increasing dissatisfaction with public schools I have highlighted in several countries, is generating a new demand for education at international schools. So is a growing awareness by local parents of the benefits of international schooling. What is new is the choice of the cities that parents are looking at in the wake of the UK’s expected departure from the European Union.

Paris, which is now reaping the benefits of recent tax and labour law reforms, has seen a major surge of admissions enquiries at its international schools. The attraction of the city for school investors will likely increase when the European Banking Authority makes the French capital its home in 2019.  Joining the European Securities and Markets Authority there, this move will position Paris as a major global financial centre, making it highly attractive to other financial institutions.

Furthermore, France, acknowledging the advantages of a multi-lingual education, supports at least 22 international public schools. They range from Toulouse and Marseille to Ferney-Voltaire near Geneva. Compared to private international schools, these International Collèges and Lycées – as public institutions – cost parents comparatively little. There is also a push amongst French families to have their children enrolled despite rules that at least one parent needs to be of expatriate background. The Ferney school recently expanded with the creation of a second campus in nearby St Genis.

In the Netherlands, Unilever may well have pulled out of its planned move from London to Rotterdam, but nevertheless, the country’s leading cities are appealing to major multinationals considering Brexit relocation. The British School in the Netherlands located in The Hague opened in September 2018 a new senior school, in addition to its already existent four campuses (three junior schools, and one senior school). Other international schools in both Amsterdam and Rotterdam are already at, or close to, capacity, meaning that additional enrolment demands will have to be met by new schools or campus expansions. In addition, as some parents point out, Dutch universities offering English-language programmes are becoming increasingly attractive for high school graduates.

The new King’s College in Frankfurt-am-Rhein in Germany. (Photo: ISC)

Frankfurt: emerging as a preferred Brexit relocation site

The European city attracting most attention, however, is Frankfurt. There the economic boom in Frankfurt’s Rhein-Main region has already impacted enrolment growth in the area’s international schools. In addition, its favourable commercial property prices, sophisticated infrastructure, and well-educated workforce are some of the factors most often cited for its appeal as a preferred Brexit relocation site.

The first school development in response to this new and potential demand is King’s College Frankfurt, which opened in August this year (2018) for nursery to year 5 children. Following the National Curriculum of England, the school will gradually expand to grade 12 and offer IGCSE and A-level certificate education to appeal to families moving their children from schools in Britain.

Children at La Cote International School in Aubonne overlooking Lake Geneva celebrate World Book Day Parade 2018 with character costumes. The school expanded into new facilities in 2014. (Photo: La Cote)

Faced with a shortage of places in Switzerland, several new schools in this long-established venue for international education recently opened in anticipation of growing demand. At first it looked as if they acted a bit too quickly. With certain companies and institutions curbing education subsidies, the new schools could not fill their places. Now, however, there appears to be a slight reverse trend; financial support for education is returning to relocation packages for executives, and Switzerland is rising once again as a popular business location, also in response to Brexit and new policies embraced by the Trump White House.

Almost two-thirds of Western Europe’s international schools currently have waiting lists. If the developments I have listed take place, Europe will likely see a growth of international schools in a way that it hasn’t seen for many years. For now, investors wait, primarily stalled by a sense of insecurity as regards British legislators, voters and companies: ‘Will they, won’t they, and what if?’.

Richard Gaskell is Schools Director at ISC Research which supplies comprehensive data, intelligence and research expertise on the world’s international schools market.

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International education is accessible in most countries of the world at English-speaking or bilingual private schools that offer an international curriculum (such as the International Baccalaureate) or a curriculum other than the country’s national curriculum (often the National Curriculum of England or an American-style of curriculum), and with a decidedly international approach to teaching and learning. These schools, for children aged between 3 and 18, are called English-medium international schools.

ISC Research has been supplying data and intelligence on the world’s English-medium K-12 international schools market since 1994. More information about the world’s English-medium international schools market, including future projects and investment potential, is available from ISC Research