Opportunities for private schools, education companies and HE institutions

But still a shortage of support for UK exporters


Notwithstanding the issues raised by the Duke of York at the recent Wellington College Conference ‘Brand UK: Why Britsh Schools and Universities should set up abroad’ regarding the current visa regime and  confusion over support for education companies abroad, highlighted by the conflicted roles of the British Council , there was much optimism about the future of UK  companies schools and HE institutions  expanding into  international  education markets, exploiting the UK education brand. Private schools, including Dulwich College, which now has three off shoots in China, and is looking to expand in Asia and  India,  Harrow and Wellington College whose Tianjin campus is close to completion, were all mentioned, with David Cook the Headmaster of Wellington College International Tianjin presenting on his experiences  . The college is now open for applications for the term starting August 2011. Significantly UK schools were making inroads in countries such as Thailand and China which had no colonial ties with the UK. Schools setting up abroad will have problems and challenges and there seems to be a high turnover of start -up Heads, which implies that start up Headteachers need particular qualities.  Universities are also making a big effort to expand abroad with Nottingham something of a pioneer with two new campuses, one in China one in Malaysia. The Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University too. It is an independent university based in Suzhou China, resulting from a partnership between the universities of Liverpool and Xi’an Jiaotong.  It is the world’s first Sino-British university between research led universities, and is officially recognised by the Chinese Ministry of Education as a “not for profit” educational institution. However, the Chinese market is less open than in the UK.  I heard from one reliable source at this conference that over 30 University Vice Chancellors had passed through Malaysia in the past year alone, which gives some idea of just how important Universities now rate the international market. China and the Middle East were seen as significant markets ripe for development and India too.  However Indian bureaucracy and its apparent residual protectionism remain a problem. A Bill in the Indian Parliament is supposed to be about to enable Universities to set up campuses in India, but I seem to remember this was mentioned at the last conference two years ago.  In China there is a limitation on school expansion because foreign owned schools cant teach Chinese nationals, although according to the Chinese representative, Tian Xiaogang this is possible if there is a joint venture with Chinese partners. 102 international school are currently operating in China . Universities are setting up in China too but the Chinese have some concerns over the variable quality of teaching and qualifications on offer from some international ventures. The 5TH China UK Education Summit took place on 9 November and there appears to be considerable mutual interest in furthering ties, with the number of Chinese students attending UK institutions increasing. It was noted that UK schools are taking an interest in Mandarin and Brighton College has become the first school to make the subject compulsory. The Chinese representative seemed particularly taken by Wellingtons attempts to revive Confucius in its  Tianjin school.

As far as the Middle East was concerned, there appears to be a large market which is relatively untapped. Paul Andrews, the Private Schools Manager of the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC), gave a presentation .ADEC oversees policy, planning, inspection and QA of private schools sector. There are 200 schools and 170,000 students. With the population growing rapidly and a major priority attached by the Government to education many more local students are  moving into private schools. So there is demand beyond the ex-pat community. The pace of schools development  is not however keeping pace with population growth. ADEC appears to be bending over backwards to ease the process of establishing schools, cutting though the local bureaucracy and red tape. Indeed it is willing to allocate empty buildings for opportunities to run “affordable” schools and indeed to find empty school buildings to tide operators  over  until a new school is built.

Significantly there appears to be a large gap in the market for support for Special Educational Needs   with very little provision currently available within existing schools, the implication being that the Government wants to address this as a priority.  Inaddition  the aim is to drive improvement in  standards  with the help of a  schools inspections  system,  so an inspection market is  developing.   There is an urgent need to build local capability and capacity. Training courses are beginning too, for selected teachers to become inspectors which will bear fruit over the next couple of years. ADECS ten year plan aims to improve school standards to the best international benchmarks.  It claims to be able to easily match local  investors  with schools operators and the impression given was that there was no shortage of investor interest. Local partners though are important, indeed it seems essential.    UK companies such as Tribal, which is involved in inspections and the SSAT quango, which provides a range of support services to 21 schools, including for instance leadership and teacher support and Anthony Millard Consulting  which focuses on recruitment of school leaders and strategic consulting are all  active and successful  in Abu Dhabi

ADEC is looking for :

modernisation of teaching approaches to core subjects

innovative private schools to train  the young to be future leaders

innovative use of IT, new approaches to learning

access for all students incl SEN

basic teacher training with Continuing Professional Development

leadership training for present and future school leaders

Certainly, as evidenced by the attendance at this conference, and the fact that the  education market in the UK  has been affected by the downturn and cuts in Government and local authority budgets, there  is   real increased  interest in markets abroad, for schools, education providers and HE institutions. But it is also clear that there are pitfalls and a lack of co-ordinated support from the Government and its agencies for providers, and the unfair anti-competitive practices of education quangos seeking to increase their income streams aboard  is making a difficult market even harder for  many operators . In addition  management of the current visa regime is positively harming UK Higher Education Institutions and will do nothing to aid their expansion abroad. The Government needs to think long and hard about how it can  make life easier for UK education exporters and to be  a  better enabler . A  good  start would be to listen to  providers concerns and the challenges they  currently have to  face.

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