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The new British empire

EMPIRE BUBBLE

Setting up a branch abroad used to be an activity for only the bravest, boldest and best resourced independent schools in the UK, Irena Barker writes. 


Harrow School, alma mater of Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch and prime minister Winston Churchill, was the first to plant its flag in foreign lands – opening a campus in Bangkok, Thailand in 1998. It now has a ‘chain’ of four international schools in East Asia.

In the years that followed, a handful of other schools also successfully exported the famous British private school experience to expats and wealthy locals.

But figures recently released by the Independent Schools Council, which represents around half of UK private schools, show this steady drip has turned into a stream: its members now have a total of 59 branches abroad.

This represents an increase of thirteen schools compared to last year, and nearly three times the number that were open in 2012. And analysts say these figures are certain to rise much higher as smaller, less-well-known schools follow in the footsteps of prestigious trailblazers such as Harrow and Dulwich College, which has nine overseas branches.

International schools market analysts ISC Research, which has data on 41 overseas campuses run by UK independent schools, estimates the turnover from fee income alone to be around $700 million. It says it knows of ‘more than a dozen’ UK schools planning to open abroad in the next three years, and expects around ten more to make announcements in the next few months.

New branches are planned in fast-growing cities in boom areas such as China and the Middle East, and in emerging markets such as Myanmar, where Dulwich College will open two campuses in the capital Yangon this August. And Repton School in Derbyshire is set to open a school for 3–18 year-olds next year in Bangalore, dubbed ‘India’s Silicon Valley’.

The Independent Schools Council says that there are now 31,773 pupils being educated at its schools’ overseas branches. For the first year ever, this is more than the number of foreign students with parents overseas who are educated at its schools in the UK, currently 27,281.

The overseas campuses include everything from international schools aimed at expats to bilingual schools following the local curriculum, depending on demand and regulations in individual countries.

Increasingly, schools aim to educate local children. Some, such as Wellington College in Berkshire, have sought to replicate themselves physically, commissioning architecture that reflects the historic ‘mother’ school in the UK.

Others have gone less far, and lent their branding and educational expertise to schools that have already been set up, such as Wycombe Abbey International in Changzhou.

Table1 EMPIRE

Hurtwood House, a boarding school in south-east England, has lent its name and ethos to a chain of five ‘sister schools’ in China offering students a fully bilingual education. Day-to-day management is delegated to a Chinese partner, Elite K12.

And the drive to create outposts – which can potentially carry a high degree of financial and reputational risk – does not look like it will abate any time soon.

Even state schools and colleges are getting involved. The Bohunt Education Trust, which runs the state-funded Bohunt School in Hampshire, is due to open Wenzhou Bohunt International School in China in 2018. It is hoped the boarding school aimed at Chinese pupils will help fund the work of the trust back in the UK and offer opportunities for cultural exchanges. But why has opening up an outpost abroad become so appealing – and apparently so feasible?

Fig 2 Graph EMPIRE

 Hurtwood House, a boarding school in south-east England, has lent its name and ethos to a chain of five ‘sister schools’ in China offering students a fully bilingual education. Day-to-day management is delegated to a Chinese partner, Elite K12.

And the drive to create outposts – which can potentially carry a high degree of financial and reputational risk – does not look like it will abate any time soon.

Even state schools and colleges are getting involved. The Bohunt Education Trust, which runs the state-funded Bohunt School in Hampshire, is due to open Wenzhou Bohunt International School in China in 2018. It is hoped the boarding school aimed at Chinese pupils will help fund the work of the trust back in the UK and offer opportunities for cultural exchanges. But why has opening up an outpost abroad become so appealing – and apparently so feasible?

MAP EMPIRE