Happy medium

International schools with affordable fees are in demand

According to Sam Fraser there is significant growth in the enrolment of international schools with affordable tuition fees:  ISC Research intelligence suggest this sector will continue to expand.

Why is this happening?

Several factors have impacted the expansion of the mid-market fee sector of international schools. The incomes and job securities of many families have been compromised as a result of COVID-19, prompting a shift of some families from premium fee schools to those in a mid-market sector. In addition, in most major cities around the world, there continues to be growing demand from local families for places at an international school in their neighbourhood in preference to a local state or independent school. Some seek out the premium fee schools, but many local families require a school with a fee they can afford.

There is also an increase in the movement of families from a wide range of destination countries, many relocating for work and others relocating for education access. Combine this with the decline of generous employment benefit packages that include education fees for dependents, and there is little surprise that more families are seeking out schools within the mid-market fee sector. As a result, there are a growing number of international schools being established, or are adapting their fees, with the purpose of meeting the needs of this sector.

White paper

ISC Research recently released a white paper exploring this trend. The paper provides helpful insights into the sector, showing how fees and levels of demand vary considerably from country to country. For example, there has been dramatic growth of the mid-market fee sector in Qatar as a direct result of the impact of COVID-19, with many mid-market fee schools in the country full and with extensive waiting lists. There are currently 60,400 students studying at mid-market fee schools in Qatar compared to 31,400 students at premium fee schools. Compare this to the UAE where demand is quite different. Enrolments at premium fee and mid-market fee schools in the UAE have grown steadily since 2016, with 167,900 students attending schools in the premium fee sector and 173,300 in the mid-market fee sector.

Quality at an affordable price

Deane Baker, Principal of Qatar International School who was interviewed for the white paper believes quality at an affordable price is driving market growth in Qatar. “With more competition in the market generally, the most successful players are those who can deliver a quality provision at reduced cost,” he says.

For Barrie McCliggot, Principal of Columbia International School in Japan, fee is related to location: “We are outside the main population belt so the cost of our real estate is cheaper, but also away from the main source of students interested in international school type education,” he says. Nevertheless, the school is experiencing admissions enquiries from wider sources, as Barrie explains: “We have seen an increase in our enrolment lately due to overseas Japanese students returning from the United States or Canada due to COVID-19 challenges, also students inside Japan, maybe due to favourable press associated with international schools like us who were tech-ready for online schooling. Further globalisation makes people aware of educational needs that may not be offered in local schools [including] English and global citizenship as well as technology. There has also been a big increase in enquiries from China and Hong Kong of late. Japan is seen as safe with a good reputation for education.”

High price = high quality?

Price can often be misinterpreted as a guide to quality, and parents need to know that fee point does not imply a high level of school or educational quality. For example, a premium fee international school may charge higher fees because it occupies a prime location, while a different school may be able to offer lower fees due to favourable lease terms.

Rajan Kaloo, Director of Services at elc international school in Malaysia, which was founded specifically to provide a more affordable international education, says “Many families are fooled into believing the more expensive the school, the better.

Thankfully over the years we have built a good reputation as an academic institution with a published track record of results,” he adds.



It’s the teachers . . . .

Tom Egerton, Director of Franconian International School in Germany says that quality schools are so much more than just facilities. “It’s about the calibre of teachers you can attract,” he says. “If teachers want to come to our school, it’s not because of the high salaries, it’s how the school can help develop them as teachers. There is still a strong interest in teachers to work overseas, but probably not to the extent that they used to due to the uncertainty of movement now as a result of COVID-19. However, we are still attracting highly motivated and skilled teachers to our school. We have very low turnover compared to the international average. When teachers decide to come here, many of them stay for a very long time. We have many teachers who have been here for 15 to 20 years. They’ve bought houses here, have financial security, the health system is well developed, and they grow as teachers, all of that is highly appealing.”

Mid-market characteristics

Some unique characteristics are now emerging within mid-market fee international schools as a result of their place in the market. For example, several schools that fall into the mid-market fee sector are promoting a strong EAL (English as an additional language) teaching and learning structure in order to attract families of students unable to pass the EAL tests required of some of the more selective premium fee schools.

More information about the mid-market fee sector of international schools is available in the new white paper from ISC Research which is free to download here.

Sam Fraser is Research Director at ISC Research and leads the field-based team gathering the data that inform ISC Research’s highly regarded international school reports.  

See www.iscresearch.com for more of the latest intelligence from ISC Research on the international school market.



FEATURE IMAGE:  by Dirk Wouters from Pixabay