Historic and Forecast Growth

Total Fee Income (USD) $4.9 billionTotal Fee Income (USD) $48 billionTotal Fee Income (USD) $85 billion
Schools 2,584Schools 9,549Schools 16,900
Students 950,000Students 5 millionStudents 10.4 million

International Schools Consultancy, 2018 

Drivers of Growth

The international schools market has grown at a steady rate over the past twenty years. This growth has been focused within the world’s rapidly emerging economies and has been driven by a common set of features, as summarised below.

Demographic Transition

The world’s population has more than trebled since 1950, leaving many countries with a disproportionately high number of children. In many instances, state school education has not kept pace with the growing demand for school places, leaving a gap best filled by the private sector.

Economic Growth

As economies grow, the average income of families increases, leading to more middle and upper-income earners. International schools therefore become more affordable to local families, who increasingly favour private education options over local state alternatives. Where international schools were once made up of predominantly expatriate children, they are increasingly filled with children of local families. This trend indicates a sustainable future for the sector.

Mobility for Tertiary Education

For many families, qualifications from top universities in the UK and USA are the gateway to successful careers for their children. And with supportive visa regulations and cost-effective international travel, overseas universities are more accessible than ever. An international school education is viewed as the main pathway to a western university with many parents selecting schools at primary and secondary level on this basis.

English Language

English is the international language of business. International schools are seen by parents as an excellent way to enhance their children’s proficiency in English, preparing them for entry into Western universities and ultimately, successful careers in a global marketplace.

Government Policy

As education systems struggle to meet the demand for school places or achieve the high standards increasingly expected, governments are reforming policies to enable more operators and investors to establish and manage international schools.

Internationalisation of Labour

Increased labour mobility means ever greater demand for high quality school options. International schools are viewed as most suitable, as these offer children a learning pathway that is easily transferred to their home country or to another international location.


A number of branded international schools currently operate in key emerging markets, but in many cases their capacity limits have been met, with overwhelming demand resulting in waiting lists. Indeed, the overall growth in the market shows few signs of abating.

The drivers of growth highlighted above remain robust and are in fact extending into new markets. For instance, growth in the Middle East and East Asia is well documented, but there are signs that market conditions in parts of Africa and South America will open up new opportunities for the sector.

There is little doubt that the international schools’ market is an exciting sector to be a part of. However, it is vital to ensure that you enter the market with the right school operating partner.


“There are now over 9,800 English-medium international schools worldwide. Student enrolment has increased year on year, representing a compound annual growth rate in the past five years of 6.7%. More than 5 million children now attend international schools, 80% of who are from local families seeking out the best possible education close to home to prepare their child for university overseas and global careers. By 2023, 7 million students are expected to be studying at international schools.”

Richard Gaskell – Schools Director, International Schools Consultancy Research

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