International Private Schools Experience Price Point Enrollment Shift During the Pandemic

Contributing Writer

An increasing number of parents are enrolling their children in more affordable international private schools, according to a new report.

United Kingdom-based ISC Research, which provides data and intelligence on international schools around the world, recently released a white paper focused on the growing demand for international private schools with mid-market tuition fees. 

The report has implications for many education companies from the United States and elsewhere that have found a market selling their products to the rapidly-growing network of international private schools worldwide. There are currently 11,419 international schools serving 5.8 million students across 239 countries or territories, according to ISC. 

International private schools have long catered to the needs of Western expatriates.

But in recent years, the market has expanded as local families in countries abroad increasingly are choosing to send their children to international private schools over local state schools. Language learning—in particular studying English—and the overall quality of education are the primary factors driving local families to opt for an international private school, according to the report.

That expansion has given rise to more price competition in the international private school market.

Over the last two academic years there has been “a notable growth in demand for international schools with a mid-market fee point,” according to ISC, noting that such education institutions now make up a “significant sector within the global international schools market.”

And ISC says that trend is likely to continue, as demand for international private school education grows and socioeconomic conditions around the globe fluctuate.

The research firm characterizes “premium” fees as international schools that offer the highest tuition prices, a range that could account for about 25 percent of any given market, and the “mid-market” sector as schools that offer the next tier of pricing, a fee structure that could encompass about 40 percent of a market. ISC notes that percentages vary by country, and by city in some cases.

In the report, ISC also notes that more affordable tuition doesn’t mean sacrificing quality of education: teaching and learning requirements, along with facilities offered to students, remain consistent across all tuition price points.

COVID-19 Driving Demand 

And reasons for demand growing in the mid-market tuition sector are multiple, according to ISC.

Aside from an increase in demand from local families seeking international private school education for their children, the report says that more expatriate families are having to pay for their children’s education out of pocket, as opposed to an employer reimbursement package. As a result, “many expatriates are now seeking good education at an affordable price point.”

The economy plays a major role, too. 

So events like a global pandemic or the oil and gas crisis in the Middle East and Southeast Asia—both big hubs for international private schools—influence tuition and fees. The report notes that the “ramifications of COVID-19 on many businesses and, as a result, incomes, has been extensive and has impacted many families globally, some of who will have found it necessary to move their child from a premium fee international school to a mid-market fee international school.” 

In some cases, school pricing may be influenced by government requirements, such as in China where tuition hikes are restricted or in Germany where fee increases are allowed in conjunction with a spike in inflation to ensure accessibility. 

Which Countries Are Seeing Mid-Market Growth?

According to the report, several major markets for international private schools are experiencing more demand and growth for international private schools with a mid-market price point. 

In Qatar, for example, enrollment in schools with a mid-market fee has “increased dramatically during the 2020-2021 academic year as a result of the impact of COVID-19,” per the ISC report. More than 17,000 students enrolled in a mid-market international private school between 2016 and 2021, reflecting a compound growth rate of 7 percent during that period.  

Comparatively, fewer than about 8,000 students enrolled in premium-market fee schools in Qatar during that same period, according to ISC. A massive drop in the price of oil, along with an oil blockade that ended in January, and now the pandemic have made the local market “more volatile and increasingly competitive.” 

“The premium fee sector of the international schools market in Qatar is near saturation,” ISC said in the report, “and notable demand has shifted to the mid-market fee schools, several of which are full and have large waiting lists.” 

In the United Arab Emirates, the rate of enrollment growth in the mid-market fee sector was slower than the increases shown at premium fee schools during the last 18 months. But the UAE’s “mid-market fee sector is expected to see most growth in coming years in line with a drive to accommodate local families in international schools” as part of a government plan.  

In Malaysia, ISC notes that both mid-market and premium-fee schools suffered an enrollment decline during the pandemic, but that there is strong “growing demand from local Malaysian families for international education at a price point that is affordable for them.” 

And in China, demand for mid-market private schools has experienced “dramatic” growth in its bilingual schools for Chinese nationals, as opposed to schools designed to teach children of foreign nationals. 

“Demand for an international education close to home is so high that bilingual schools in China in both the premium and mid-market fee sectors are in very high demand,” the report notes.

Image by iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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