New paradigm

Changing patterns in demand for international schools

Tash Hingston of ISC Research tracks the way international schools continue to grow as a result of new patterns of demand.

White paper

ISC Research has published a new report into the factors that are impacting growth within the international schools market. The white paper explores government influence, common drivers, local impact and micro factors influencing market growth, and shares insights from four international schools about the reasons behind their admissions shifts.

January 2023 data released by ISC Research shows that 6.5 million children between the ages of 3 and 18 are currently enrolled at international schools around the world: a 53% growth in the market since 2013.

International schools are a common sight today in many cities of the world. The ISC Research data from January indicates there are now 13,190 international schools where English is one of the languages of learning. This increased school presence helps raise awareness of their existence and accessibility to more families. These factors and others have combined to drive up the admissions demand at many international schools.

South East Asia

The ISC Research data shows that South-Eastern Asia has experienced a 23% growth in the enrolment of students in international schools over the last five years. During that same time, the number of international schools in the sub-region increased from 1,600 to 1,940. The field research conducted by ISC Research suggests this is due to a rise in both enrolments of host nation students, as well as expatriates who have moved to the sub-region because of new development by multinationals, foreign businesses and start-ups.

A lower cost of living in several Southeast Asian countries, the increasing career choices available, and the potential for extensive travel opportunities are making them an inviting destination for many expatriates. The impact of COVID-19 has introduced a new factor to destination choice for some expatriates who are now also prioritising their wellbeing and considering how to address the challenges they may face from future country lockdowns. As a result, the lifestyle and domestic travel offerings within countries like Thailand and Vietnam, as well as their management of the pandemic, are making them an appealing choice for many.

This expatriate growth, along with the relative freedom given by governments to hostnation children in most Southeast Asian countries to attend their local international schools, mean that the schools in the sub-region are experiencing high demand.

Schools that meet the needs of parents

In a recent webinar hosted by ISC Research, Katie Rigney-Zimmermann, Director of Admissions and Marketing at Saigon South International School in Vietnam, explained changes in the makeup of the school’s student population to a student demographic that has increased to 40% local students. “Our biggest challenge is also our greatest opportunity,” Katie said. “As Vietnam is seeing economic growth, we are observing a shift from the traditional Western expatriate coming in for two-to-three years and then leaving, to more people moving within the region and then for people to stay longer.

We are also seeing an increase of local students,” she added. Katie talked about how parent priorities have broadened, describing how academics and results remain important, but so too are details of how the school is developing students’ soft skills, how the school is supporting students’ mental wellbeing, and how the school is using technology to support learning.

An increasing number of families are driven by a desire to access international education for their child at the earliest age. Julia Love, Director of Admissions at the International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL) in Malaysia, described how, in some cases, a family’s reason for leaving their local country is to access international education during the primary and secondary years of education. Julia said how ISKL has experienced increased demand for students from mainland China which she believes is partly due to the ease of entry into Malaysia, in addition to Chinese being widely spoken in Malaysia.

Regional expatriate families stay longer

Julia shared her predictions for what the future will look like for international school admissions : “[I think] we will see less of a revolving door of expatriates: we are already starting to see how, even in our school with 80% expatriate students, the timeline of a family’s stay is no longer these two-to-three-year stays, but we are seeing more five year [stays] or even more. In some ways, there will be more stability, which is of course going to create demands. If you’re used to having a certain percentage of students that turnover every year, that does impact your admissions,” she said.

Future patterns of demand

This conversation about what is influencing the current growth of the international schools market continues in the ISC Research Community discussion forum.

These and other factors impacting growth within the international schools market are explained in a new white paper now available to download for free here from ISC Research.


Tash Hingston is a press officer and member of the marketing team at ISC Research.





Listen in:

Nalini Cook of ISC Research and Mansoor Ahmed of Colliers International discuss International Education in a Disrupted World with ITM’s Andy Homden in the May 2023 edition of the ITM Podcast, Talking About . . .

Growth uninterrupted?


FEATURE IMAGE: by Rosy from Pixabay

Support Image:   by sippakorn yamkasikorn on Unsplash