International schools - opportunities for UK publishers

Peter Maisey • Thursday, 23 October 2014

Peter Maisey of OUP reports on a growing and competitive market.
It's hard not to be taken aback by the rapid growth of international schools. There are now more than 7,000 schools following international curricula around the world, catering for 3.5 million students in what has become a $35 billion global industry. In 2000, there were just 2,500 of these schools, and it is thought that there will be more than 10,000 by 2021.

What is driving this growth? A growing middle class in emerging markets is certainly one reason. Growing affluence in parts of Asia, the Middle East and South America means that a greater proportion of the population can now afford to send their children to an international school; and in countries experiencing rapid population growth, they are doing so in their thousands. The demand for an English education is also a driver. The majority of international schools use English as the medium of instruction - a key draw for parents looking to help their children secure a place at the world's most respected universities and succeed in the workplace.

Growth is particularly noticeable in Asia. In India, for example, the number of international schools has doubled in two years, while numbers are also increasing in China, with its staggering 200 million students. Numbers of schools are also increasing in Pakistan - thanks to the expansion of private school chains - and in Malaysia, where government regulations have been relaxed allowing for higher enrolment levels. The Middle East is also a key area of growth. The United Arab Emirates has the largest number of schools in one country, with more than 400, and that number is increasing rapidly.

The expanding market has created a shift in focus for educational publishers. Until relatively recently, publishers often operated separate international units catering for individual curricula. While this remains the case, many are also now investing in international schools - whether this is the additional personnel needed to sell, or to develop internationally specific resources the schools require.

UK publishers in particular are investing in the market. About 42% of international schools follow UK-based curricula, and combined with a heritage link to the British way of teaching and the belief that the UK education system is of a high standard, there is a real opportunity to build on the reputation that UK publishers have for high-quality materials. Large numbers of publishers from the UK and beyond are therefore producing resources for the UK-based Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) as well as the International Baccalaureate (IB), both of which are widely adopted by international schools.

Publishers are also responding to rising demands from international schools for digital content. Institutions often offer electronic materials as a way of setting themselves apart from competitors, meaning that many resources being developed for this market have significant digital elements, with publishers being asked to provide content for tablets, and online tools for front of class teaching.

While the sector offers a wealth of opportunities, it is not without its challenges. Within the label of "international school" there are vast differences, with a variety of different geographic locations, cultures and local mandates. It has given rise to many different school profiles and terminology such as "English-medium instruction schooling", "international schooling" and "bilingual schooling". International schools also adopt a wide variety of curricula. As well as IB and CIE qualifications, schools may import qualifications from other jurisdictions, use their local curricula, or create bespoke curricula. This provides challenges for publishers looking to arrange a uniform offering.

It is also a fiercely competitive market. There are now six international publishers producing core student books for the IB in Mathematics alone, with still others developing revision guides and supplementary resources for the same subject. This has raised standards and the range of resources available, but it makes the landscape even more volatile for publishers.

For Oxford University Press, providing content in the way it is required is key. Making digital resources easily available is important, and through our new online Primary (Oxford Owl) and Secondary (Kerboodle) platforms, we have been able to make this content as easily accessible as possible. Kerboodle (which was developed by Nelson Thornes) now sits on a brand new platform, enabling us to offer a comprehensive list that provides for a huge range of teaching and learning styles. The result is that international schools can pick and choose the resources that best suit them. But it's not just about providing a comprehensive list of resources, it's also about high quality support for teachers in their teaching and professional development.

The international school market provides a challenge for publishers, but one that can enable us to further the educational values that the publishing industry has always held true.

Peter Maisey is International Business Development Manager for Oxford Education at Oxford University Press.

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch Frankfurt Show Daily.