Where in the world are the top cities for international schools?

By Elaine Stallard, CEO of Winter’s International School Finder

The number of international schools is growing globally at an incredibly rapid rate with no signs of slowing down. Recent figures from the International School Consultancy (ISC) revealed that there are 8,000 English-medium international schools across the world, teaching a total of 4.26 million students. Local populations as well as the growing number of expats are contributing to this figure and are signing up to international schools across the world.

Additionally, Forbes recently reported that more than four million students are now educated in international schools, which makes the market worth around $39 billion in fee income, and this figure is forecast to reach $89 billion by 2026.

This booming international schools space brings with it a host of expat parents who are keen, not only on finding an international school for their child, but on finding the right international school for their son or daughter. Before the big leap is even made, parents who are considering the move need to carry out research into international schools and the areas to live in. For the individuals who are in this research stage, it’s key to know more about which cities around the world rank highly for international education.

So, which cities are best to move to? These are the cities that are often cited as the best for parents in search for English-medium international schools:

Dubai, UAE

Dubai is home to more than 250 international schools, the largest number in any city in the world. It’s well recognised as a global city and the commercial hub of the Middle East, not to mention a popular tourist destination thanks to the wealth of larger-than-life attractions and its hot climate.

International schools in Dubai are regulated by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA). It recently released its annual Education Landscape Report which revealed there are 298,341 seats available across private schools in Dubai. However, a staggering 89% of seats in these schools are already occupied. As a result, parents are struggling for admissions to schools in Dubai – although, things are looking up as KHDA announced an opening of 20 new international schools this year. Additionally, Dubai is home to branches of some of the largest British independent schools, such as Repton and also to the important GEMS Education Group.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid is the major financial capital of southern Europe and hosts more than 180 international schools, substantially more than any other European city, placing it second in the world only to Dubai. The English national curriculum is taught, followed by International GCSEs and A-levels. Language teaching is emphasised in Spain with the possibility of going on to university in the UK or the United States.

Additionally, Spain has the most subsidised private schools, bilingual schools and fully independent international schools, including American and British schools. The Telegraphreported that children in Spain are spoilt for choice, with the National Association of British Schools in Spain listing 52 member institutions in locations from the country’s Atlantic north coast to the Canary Islands.

Abu Dhabi, UAE

It’s not all about Dubai, in fact, the emirate’s capital is the city of Abu Dhabi and is the largest emirate of the United Arab Emirates in area, and second most populous after Dubai. Similar to its more famous neighbouring city, Abu Dhabi is renowned for its spectacular modern architecture, with impressive structures such as the Aldar headquarters in Al Raha, the first circular skyscraper in the world. By chance, this amazing building also houses Aldar Academies which is one of the most important school groups in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain.

Abu Dhabi has nearly 150 international schools, serving both its huge expatriate community and domestic families seeking an English-medium education. Despite the huge number of schools, there is a lot of competition for places in the best ones. With17 new schools due to open in the city by 2018, this problem should hopefully be resolved soon. Meanwhile, parents should enquire or start the admissions process as early as possible to give themselves the best chance of securing a place.

Doha, Qatar

Doha is the capital and largest city of Qatar. It is a major financial centre of the Middle East, and home to Education City, an area covering 14km2 devoted to education and research, from school age through to university level. There are around140 international schools in Doha, placing it third in the Middle East (after Dubai and Abu Dhabi), and fourth in the world overall. Large independent schools like Sherborne Qatar and International School of London hold branches in Doha.

Shanghai and Beijing, China

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the international education scene in China is taking off in the same way that the economy is. As theTelegraph expat guide on the area reported, several big-name establishments have opened in recent years, and Chinese students are generally not allowed to attend foreign-owned schools. Yet increasing domestic demand has led to a rapid increase in Chinese-owned international schools. Overall there are now more than 120 international schools in Beijing alone, placing the Chinese capital fifth in the world. According to theBBC, 15 years ago there were only a dozen international schools, but now “China has some 530 English-medium international schools, catering for 326,000 students”.

Shanghai is China’s most populous city, and is a major administrative and trade centre. The city is also renowned for its historical landmarks and the modern skyscrapers of the Lujiazui financial district. As in Beijing, local demand for international schools has spiralled and Shanghai is now home to 118 in total, including large British international school branches such as Nord Anglia Education Group and Dulwich College.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo is Japan’s capital and largest city, with the biggest metropolitan economy in the world. A major international finance centre, Tokyo houses the headquarters of some of the world’s leading investment banks and insurance companies, and is the hub for Japan’s transport, publishing, electronics and broadcasting industries. Busy and cultured, Tokyo is an exciting place to live and work, and, along with its many universities, colleges and schools, there are more than 100 international schools serving local and expatriate families. With international schools in Tokyo, it can be expensive, between 1 to 3 million yen per year, and places are limited. It is therefore advisable to apply to schools at least 6 months in advance and research beforehand.

The international space is booming and one of the most important tasks for parents before choosing a city, is research. The cities above explore the top cities for international schools. Parents should look to research schools and cities beforehand and apply to schools early to avoid disappointment.

About Elaine:

Over the past decade, Elaine’s background has been in opening international schools, most recently in Qatar, where she spent five months project managing the establishment of Sherborne Qatar, which is the daughter school of Sherborne School in England. During this process, she held focus groups and collected insights from multiple stakeholders involved. This included headmasters, school admissions services and HR professionals looking to relocate staff and expat parents. Elaine has also recently been involved in negotiating and scoping the opportunity for international schools in Thailand, India, China and Kenya.


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