International private schools are reconsidering their presence in China as authorities tighten restrictions on foreign influence in the education system.
This opens an opportunity for Thailand to attract more foreign students – and establish itself as a destination for great international education.
The newspaper Financial Times has in a number of articles recently reported on the increased difficulties for foreign independent schools to have affiliates in China.
On September 5, 2021, FT reported that the central government in China had recently stopped approving new private schools, and that in at least four provinces had said there was a goal to cut the proportion of children who attend such schools from more than 10 per cent to less than 5 per cent by the end of the year.
According to the newspaper, citing ISC Research, there were 66 schools in China with an affiliation to 29 UK schools.
On May 16, 2022, the FT reported that a school in Beijing affiliated with the 450-year-old English public school Harrow had been forced to drop its famous brand name.
According to the paper, the increasingly constrictive regulatory regime in China has prompted British schools to reconsider their investment in the mainland Chinese market after more than a decade of rapid expansion.
Thailand is in great position to attract families in China
This means families in China, both local and foreign, could be looking to sending their children to other countries in the region to obtain an international education.
Thailand would be in a good position to attract these families – especially if the industry could establish an image of having great international schools with a fair offer.
Thailand has seen a rapid growth in the number of international schools over the last decades. As TIS Monitor has reported earlier, this can be explained both by an increased demand by parents for international education but also a liberalization of the market, where power over international schools has largely shifted from the bureaucracy to school owners, creating incentives to open schools. This includes less regulation and increased opportunities for school owners to reap large profits.
While the increased number of international schools in Thailand has benefited families who have been given more opportunities to choose schools for their children, questions have been raised about parents’ rights and especially the transparency and predictability in the setting of school fees.
A number of families known to TIS Monitor have been forced out of international schools in Thailand due to higher-than-expected fee increases.
There are reports of parents signing petitions to stop planned fee increases, as well as parents being sued by schools for refusing to pay fees they think have increased too much.
Tried to increase fees – despite campuses being closed
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools in the country had to close their campuses and turn to online-learning, offering a service some parents felt was inferior to what was expected. While some international schools in Thailand went to great lengths to help parents by giving huge discounts on tuition fees, other international schools took a very tough stance on desperate families with a ”Pay what we tell you to pay”-attitude.
As a result, many foreign families, including a member of the TIS Monitor team, simply withdrew their children from international schools and left Thailand.
Some schools even tried to increase their fees during the extended campus closure, prompting the government to threaten to withdraw their school licenses which would effectively have closed the schools.
One school recently managed to bypass a government-imposed limit to raising tuition fees by rearranging the whole fee structure. While lowering some tuition fees and raising other fees associated with studying at the school, the school was rendered overall more expensive.
Many international schools in Thailand also use enrollment fees, which make transferring to other schools expensive, should fees start to rise.
Industry’s image could be improved
Michael Töpffer is the editor of TIS Monitor and has been an observer of this industry for many years.
”There is no doubt that the free-wheeling setting of fees and high profits at some international schools in Thailand has sullied the reputation of the whole industry. International schools in Thailand should come together and work out guidelines or a Best Practice over fee settings to give parents a better understanding of future fee levels. No family should be forced to quit a school just because fees start to rise uncontrollably,” he says.
He says that Thailand has already established itself as a world-class destination for international education from an academic as well as an educational perspective, but that there is still room to improve its reputation for being fair to families from a business perspective.
”There is so much that this industry could do to improve its image. It could then launch a campaign to target families in China, as well as in Europe and in other countries, to attract even more foreign families, resulting in a net influx of students. Everyone would gain from this,” Töpffer concludes.
Note from the editor:
This article was updated on May 28, 2022, with more links and editing for increased clarity.