UK exports: why British education is big business

With the popularity of the UK curriculum around the world at an all time high, London’s International and Private Schools Education Forum (IPSEF) revealed the potential opportunities for UK schools looking to open abroad… as long as they understand their marketplace.

World map showing exports
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This article is taken from the latest issue of 
Relocate magazine.
– the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.November’s International and Private Schools Education Forum (IPSEF) provided ample opportunity to explore the international schools market, exploring growing trends, the popularity of different curricula and how schools are seeking to stand out in the marketplace. For schools looking to expand from the UK, experts provided some reassuring advice.“Whilst domestic perceptions of the UK education system are often poor, overseas the picture is quite different – Britain is seen as having the best education system in the world,” explained David Cook, founding head of Harrow ILA Chongqing as he opened November’s IPSEF event in London.
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Exporting UK education

This reputation has seen increasing numbers of British school brands exporting themselves overseas. According to recent statistics from ISC Research, who provide data and intelligence on the international schools market, the UK curriculum is still the most popular in the world, having been adopted by 3,586 international schools globally.This is something that Geoff Gladding, senior lead of the education team at the UK government’s Department for International Trade (DIT), was keen to elaborate on.“UK education has never been more in demand or more highly spoken of around the world,” he said. “From Early Years provision, schools and universities to the UK’s role in Edtech, our offering across the whole sector is doing really well.“Internationally the UK education system is seen as the gold standard.”According to Mr Gladding, DIT is currently working with 120 UK schools that are either in the process of expanding overseas or are considering their options. The future looks bright for British education and for investors looking to move into new markets. It is also very good news for families who are relocating overseas and looking for continuity of education within the UK system.How has the international private schools market changed in the past 40 years? Leigh Webb, CEO of ISC Research shared some of the latest trends in the international schools market.“Gone are the days of just a US or UK curriculum,” he said. “Around 50% of international schools use the US or UK curriculum but 45% of the market now uses the IB programme.”One of the most recent trends is the growth in bilingual programmes globally. The number of schools offering bilingual programmes has grown by nearly 30% in the past four years to 3056 schools, even surpassing the growth in the IB programme (24%).“However, one of the largest shifts that we have seen,” explained Mr Webb, “is that of the number of expatriates vs locals enrolled in the schools. “In 1997, three quarters of those enrolled were expatriates and a quarter locals, but today that has shifted to three quarters locals.” Schools that were once dominated by expatriates have seen increasing numbers of local children enrolling as local incomes increase in emerging markets and governments relax prohibitive rules surrounding international education within their countries.

The future of international schools

Ashwin Assomull, partner at LEK Consulting and founding member of the firm’s education practice counselled of the importance of knowing the local market when considering a move overseas.
“The international schools market is a $14 billion industry. Emerging markets will continue to grow as incomes rise and the demand for international education will continue.”However, Mr Assomull went on to explain that with increased competition, the importance of knowing the marketplace has never been greater. For example, Saudi Arabia, which prohibited full foreign ownership of private schools, is to relax the regulations in 2019. This is likely to see an opportunity for new international schools. “But is it the right market for a premium UK school?” asked Mr Assomull. “Families in Saudi Arabia are more likely to choose the US curriculum.“The appetite for UK education globally is still very strong. China is – and will continue to be – a good marketplace, but schools are increasingly having to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.”Jitin Sethi, principal of LEK’s global education practice agrees, “The $10 billion international schools market in Asia is growing 10-15% a year, but competition is much stronger than it used to be. Schools are trying to stand out in different ways. Many are choosing to offer a bilingual curriculum; others are showcasing their flexible learning spaces or offering bespoke curricula or personalised learning. These are likely to be the trends of the future.”Interestingly it is the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) that has seen a boom in growth in China. This is the UK government-mandated curriculum that sets the standards for the learning and development of children up to the age of five. Growth in this area was remarked upon many times by IPSEF speakers. Looking from the top down, ISC Research’s Leigh Webb highlighted the driving force of higher education student mobility, which is at an all-time high. By 2025 it is projected that 8 million students will be studying at a university outside their country of citizenship.Ashwin Assomull concurred, “With the appetite for British Higher Education still very strong, especially within Asia, the resultant desire for a British education to feed into that is still growing.”If the recent Private International Schools Fair (PISF) held in Malaysia at the beginning of November is anything to go by, despite the number of international schools in Asia, there is no sign of ceasing demand. 13,000 locals and expatriates, including those from China, Korea, Japan, India and Europe, descended on the exhibition centre in Kuala Lumpur to find out about international school options in Malaysia.And whilst British education remains highly regarded in Asia, the future for UK schools looking to export and open overseas looks bright. The key message at IPSEF for those looking to move into new marketplaces was to do your research and understand the marketplace that you are entering.
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