The 2020 factor

Pandemic and response: the emerging picture

International education has been reeling under the pressure of Covid-19, but schools have shown great resilience. What is in fact going on? Will Bedford has the very latest data from ISC Research.

Shifts and changes in the international schools market

Keeping track of the global and highly diversified international schools market is challenging at the best of times. None more so that this year. However, there are some clear trends in demand and supply, and ISC Research has highlighted them in its new Global Opportunities Report for 2020.

There is an increase in demand towards mid-market schools where fees are affordable for more people, but where education standards are good. There is a continued shift in student demographics to more enrolment by local nationals and expatriates originating from Asia, and away from Western expatriates. Bilingual provision has also increased in many international schools. The report also addresses initial market understanding of the impact of COVID-19 on international schools.

Keeping track of the global and highly diversified international schools market is challenging at the best of times. None more so than this year. However there are some clear trends.

The size of the international schools market

The report states that in July 2020 there were 11,616 international schools globally; a growth of 349% since the year 2000 when there were just 2,584 international schools. All of these schools are delivering an international curriculum in English, or partly in English, to children between the ages of 3 and 18. Most of these schools are located in countries where English is not one of the official languages but where demand for an international education in English is high. Most of this demand for school places now comes from local families and in some locations, particularly in East and South-East Asia, competition is very high.

As of July 2020, 5,984,000 children were learning in international schools, with 3.7 million of them attending international schools in Asia. In comparison, global enrolment in international schools in the year 2000 was 969,000. The market has seen a 518% growth in that time in student enrolment.

As the international schools market expands, so education models are emerging. According to ISC Research data, most international schools remain day schools, while 13% of the market offers boarding. 1.15% of the international schools market are sister schools of foreign independent schools or affiliated with a foreign independent school brand through a management or service agreement. 33% of international schools are bilingual, offering English as one of the main languages of learning. Only 14% of all international schools are accredited by an independent third-party.

Increasing demand for international education in Asia

Asia leads the world for the number of international schools and students enrolled in international education. The report indicates that, for the past five years, enrolment throughout the Asia region has continually increased.

In Western Asia (the Middle East) where 1.715 million children were attending international schools in July 2020, enrolment has grown by 20.6% since 2015. In South-Eastern Asia, enrolment has increased 31.5% in the same period to 563,500. And in Eastern Asia, it is up 33.3% to 627,200. Most notable growth has been in Southern Asia where enrolment has increased by 64.6% to 763,900.

International school fees vary notably from country to country and by school type. According to the report, average annual tuition fees in Malaysia are $6,318 (USD), $16,340 in China, and $3,195 in India.

As well as tuition fee data, the report details average staff salaries, prevalent student and staff nationalities, the most common international curricula and examinations offered, and the most prominent school groups, accreditation bodies and international school associations, as well as key trends of the 42 market-leading countries for international schools. Location intelligence from government bodies and a range of international school leaders within each country, gathered by ISC Research field-based researchers, provide important context to the report.

Impact of COVID-19 on the market

ISC Research has been gathering data and intelligence about the impact of COVID-19 on international schools since August 2020. However, the report also addresses the effect of COVID-19 on international schools up to July 2020. It shows that international schools demonstrated resilience and adaptability as COVID-19 caused the closure of school campuses. It says that many international schools quickly extended some level of blended learning provision or introduced distance learning to accomplish learning outcomes. This capacity to provide a reliable education route during times of crisis “is a recurring characteristic of the market which is likely to be recognised by more families in the future,” says the report.

For some international schools, teaching and learning practices are expected to adapt in the longer term in the light of experiences during COVID-19.

The future of the market

The report suggests healthy growth of the international schools market, even in the light of the global pandemic and political challenges in some countries. “International schools will continue to appeal to wealthy families as well as to families who have previously disregarded the benefits of an international education,” it says.

It will be affordable fee levels that will drive the majority of growth predicts the report. “As families seek more affordable education options, and as schools feel the pressures of operating in an increasingly competitive market, growth will be driven by schools’ capacity to provide quality, affordable education using multiple learning options and platforms,” states the report. “This introduces a much larger population to international education, not only increasing overall demand, but also acting to ensure quality provision and a diverse student population.”

The ISC Research Global Opportunities Report provides important market trends, intelligence and context for organisations or individuals wishing to be well informed on the shifting marketplace. It is produced by ISC Research which has tracked the world’s international schools market, gathering and supplying intelligence and data on global, regional and local market developments, trends and shifts, for over 25 years. More information will be shared on a webinar on Thursday 8th October when ISC Field Researchers will join a panel session talking about how the international schools market is shifting and why.


Will Bedford is the Senior Manager of the Schools Division at ISC Research. Contact him at for more information.

Register for the Global Update webinar on 8th October here




Feature Image: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Support Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay