Four million students now at school abroad

The number of international schools providing education in English has risen dramatically in recent years

Just 15 years ago, there were fewer than one million students at international schools. Five years ago, this number rose to 2.75 million. As the figures suggest, demand for places at international schools in many countries is growing at pace – and a number of UK independent schools have a strong and successful presence.

The International School Consultancy (ISC), which provides data and intelligence on the English-medium international schools market, says the four million figure was reached for the first time in May 2015.

There are two main reasons for the growth. Firstly, expatriate families demand places for their children at international schools to ensure continuity of language, curriculum, examinations or orientation. Secondly, an increasing number of wealthy local families seek out places for their children at international schools to give them an English-medium education with a learning approach and qualifications that provide the best opportunities for a place in a Western university.

Chinese parent, Tao Sun, says: “If you want your child to have many options for world-class universities, and if you want them to survive, thrive and succeed there, then they need to start learning and speaking English as soon as they can. That’s why many families who can afford it look to schools that provide such an opportunity for their children.”

Tao is the Chairman of HD Ningbo School in Zhejiang, China which provides English-medium learning and where students study for IGCSEs and A-levels. “Many children come to our school because our English component provides the best education in the world, with good discipline, educational heritage, and with qualities and qualifications that are respected by universities in Britain, the US and Canada,” he says. 

The country with the highest number of students attending international schools is the United Arab Emirates, which has 479,700 students attending 514 English-medium international schools. However, China has now surpassed the UAE as the country with the largest number of schools. China has 530 English-medium international schools but currently only 326,400 students. The reason for this is that China’s earliest international schools are foreign-owned and, with few exceptions, such schools are not allowed to enrol Chinese nationals. The increasing demand from Chinese parents for English-medium education for their children is changing the face of international schools in the country, with Chinese-owned bilingual international schools and English-medium Sino-Foreign Cooperative Schools now being established, both of which meet government criteria to accept Chinese nationals. Many of these schools offer internationally-recognised curriculum and examinations.

“The English-medium international schools market is exceedingly healthy, with strong growth in the numbers of schools and students certain for the foreseeable future in many regions,” says Nicholas Brummitt, chairman of ISC. “English-medium international schools are a vital education provision in most major cities today. The best international schools are among the most successful in the world, with exceptional examination results and a high proportion of students going on to the universities across the globe.” 

The 2015 Global Report from ISC, which provides trends, analysis and forecasts on the world’s English-medium international schools market is now available from ISC.    

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