International educational providers need to keep up with the pace of change driven by the evolving needs of their new global audiences. Middle class parents in emerging economies which now constitute majority of buyers of international education are sophisticated, demanding, and they are setting the pace of development in this segment.
Changing Dynamics of International Education
The international education industry is undergoing a process of significant change. The total number of students studying outside their borders is expected to triple to roughly eight million by 2025. This trend goes in tandem with an increased need for primary level international schooling, now viewed as the first step towards securing a spot with leading universities.
According to the ISC, over the first decade of this century the number of students enrolled in English speaking international schools grew globally grew by 140 percent, during which time the number of schools almost doubled. This demand is driven by increased mobility, internalization of labor, dominance of English as the language of business, and increase in purchasing power.
The highest concentration of international schools is found in the UAE (428 schools in 2014, according to ISC Group), underlining the country’s stature as an important international education hub. Dynamic developments in the UAE international schooling segment mirror global trends, showing a counter-cyclical nature and a market where demand significantly outstrips the supply. At the same time, it is a market where the ability to pay is rising rapidly.
International education has experienced profound changes over the past two decades with increased mobility of students and educators and proliferation of educational providers. The international schooling landscape is no longer confined to a niche group of expatriates; rather, it is increasingly catering for local families in developing countries. Today, local families account for almost 80% of international school enrollment across the world, and the growing middle class in developing economies is one of the main drivers of growth in the sector. This dynamic has prompted many international schools to switch from what used to be a predominantly non-profit model to a for-profit business model. This is particularly reflected by transnational marketing practices which are becoming increasingly sophisticated: how the promise of education is communicated is crucial for the new parents to gauge its value. The importance of communication between this large group of ‘local’ families and international educators is paramount.
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Emerging economies are unified by the nature of their development, driven more by consumers (pull) than by the marketers (push). Consumers in emerging economies are more connected than those in the developed ones due to cultural factors. Among other factors, this is due to development of communications technologies enabling them to leapfrog the West in many ways. These middle-class parents which now constitute the majority of buyers of international education are sophisticated, well-travelled, demanding and informed. They are moving beyond the traditional dichotomy between British and American English language programs and are seeking international programs with universal learning standards. Many parents are attracted by the flexibility offered by international programs, especially the fact that they don’t prescribe content per se, but a methodology: they teach how to learn rather than what to learn. Many parents are also attracted to the diverse nature of the students who make up international schools and the lifelong, global network the children could acquire from early age.
This has prompted many schools to switch to programs with an international focus as opposed to a country-specific curriculum. Today, these international programs constitute 46% of global programs, in contrast to 42% of schools offering a British National curriculum and 23% offering an American curriculum; amongst these 46%, around 17% offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma program.
Globally, there are very few other programs that meet the needs of this dynamic new audience which have found a transnational formula for delivering international education in effective novel ways. Kevin Bartlett, the original creator of the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program and the co-founder of the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC), suggests: “What educators need is to fundamentally re-think the learning business, replacing ‘committee thinking’ that attempts to control learning using rules with ‘network thinking’ that inspires learning through a few simple principles. We need a different answer to the question, “What’s worth learning?” and new ways to make that learning happen. We need to move our schools from working in silos to thinking in systems. The good news is that compelling new solutions are emerging that meet these interconnected needs and take learning to the next level”.
(About the Author: Ivana Beveridge is a Partner at Sunrise International Education)