K12 education is changing in both emerging and developed markets, especially in Asia. The growth in private schools for the middle class who can afford to pay the fees, as well as poorer families who make great financial sacrifices for their children, means the landscape is changing permanently from voucher-driven expansion in the Philippines to low-cost private schools in India.
Whilst demand is growing because of many governments’ lack of capacity to organize and finance supply, it is often the prestige end of the market that drives change through the system and where regulatory authorities recognize the difference that the private sector can make in enhancing quality and opportunity. In Dubai, for example, there are more private schools (approaching 200) than government schools and this can be directly correlated with rapid economic growth and the development of Dubai as a global commercial hub.
Within this context, English-medium international schooling is the great growth area in high-end private education, with China alone having doubled the number of new schools between 2010 and 2015. There are currently almost 600 private schools in China. Private schooling is both an aspirational good and also a necessity for families seeking overseas higher education and better employment opportunities for their children. The private school boom is also a market opportunity for investors and operators to provide high-quality schooling in the K12 sector and for established quality brands, especially those based in the U.K., to expand through commercial partnerships with regional and local investors.
The U.K. is home to some of the most established and successful schools in the world, which bywords for excellence and achievement and historically have been difficult to access. Many of them have a strong record in the recruitment of international students but many parents cannot afford to send their children abroad and prefer a day school instead. We now see some major U.K. private schools with overseas branches, as well as the growth in international school operating companies such as Nord Anglia, ISP, ACS, GEMS, and Cognita. International Baccalaureate and Cambridge International examinations dominate the qualifications that these schools are providing, but it is more than just globally recognized examination results that these schools offer to parents and their children.
The British private school system, which only educates 7 percent of the U.K. school population, also focuses on personal development and citizenship, developing students who are articulate, self-confident, independent thinkers and also able to compete and work in teams, both on the sports field and in the arts, cultural, and musical activities. The range of study and extra-curricular options available is attractive to parents in Asia and elsewhere who may have experienced more rigid and less well-rounded education themselves.
For example, Malvern College in England was established over 150 years ago and is set within a 250-acre campus at the foot of the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. Together with its associated preparatory school, The Downs Malvern, the College educates over 900 boys and girls aged 3 to 18. It is known for its forward-thinking and innovative approach to education, encapsulated by its school motto “Sapiens Qui Prospicit,” or “Wise is the person who looks ahead.” Looking ahead for Malvern College has meant establishing campuses at Qingdao and Chengdu in China, in partnership with Hong Kong-based Babylon Education, as well as a new school in Cairo, Egypt.
A new Hong Kong campus is Malvern College’s latest addition to its growing family of international schools and places Malvern at the forefront of a small but growing group of U.K. schools operating overseas — others include Dulwich, Harrow, Repton, and Wellington. The new school, which has a capacity of 960 students, will offer the International Baccalaureate curriculum at both primary and secondary levels. Malvern College Hong Kong is situated just 20 minutes from the central business district near the Hong Kong Science & Technology Park and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Pupils will also benefit from a range of state-of-the-art facilities including a concert hall-quality auditorium, a black-box studio theater, and a floodlit all-weather sports pitch. This development will follow the opening of Malvern College Pre-School Hong Kong on a separate site in the West Kowloon area of Hong Kong in September 2017. Parents are not just buying into a great campus, as Antony Clark the headmaster of Malvern College U.K., comments. “ We are looking forward to building on our successful educational foundations and our partnerships in the region to establish schools which genuinely share our ethos and values,” he says.
It is ethos and values that differentiate a good school from a great school. All parents who are paying fees expect great teaching and great examination outcomes. Investors are looking to harness this demand to make good returns through the double bottom line of delivering education benefits and improved life chances, as well as an enduring financial return. For the host countries themselves, new English-medium international schools enhance attractiveness for inward investment and contribute to valuable educational and social infrastructure as well as an eventual alumni base that can bring longer term economic benefits through its own social capital to a particular city or region for greater public good.
Tim Emmett is a director of MB Education Ltd. He is an international education specialist and works with schools and companies on expansion and development and the provision of capital advisory services.