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The Rise of US Independent Schools Developing Overseas
Debbie Eisenach

The overseas franchising of schools is not new to independent schools in the United Kingdom (UK). Schools such as Harrow, Shrewsbury, Dulwich and Marlborough have all successfully exported for many years their educational strengths, leadership and brand by establishing sister schools abroad.

Website for Harrow International School Beijing

Harrow International School Bangkok


Harrow has established schools in China, Hong Kong and Thailand, Shrewsbury in China and Thailand, while Dulwich has schools in China, Myanmar, South Korea and Singapore. There are other schools doing the same and, with the continued growth of demand for international school places, there are more opportunities for schools to expand overseas. This is primarily in Asia where the desire for academically excellent, English-language education offering the university and career potential that reputable independent schools brands can deliver, is insatiable. It is a demand that’s increasing as economies improve and wealthy, aspirational parents become more aware of the range of educational options available to their children close to home; that do not require foreign boarding. 


Pat Bassett, President & Senior Consultant at Heads Up Educational Consulting and former President of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) stated “We are starting to see more US Independent Schools looking to franchise overseas as they see it as a new source of enrollment and revenue at the very time when demographic projections indicate the school-age population that "purchases" independent school education in the U.S. is shrinking.”   

He continued: “NAIS research-based projections from 2012-2060 indicate a 26.5% decline of independent school graduates by 2060 and hard data from The Enrollment Management Association's 2016 admission survey revealed that 22% of the schools did not meet their enrollment goals, and 48% failed to meet both their enrollment and net tuition goals.”    

“It’s also a great opportunity to exchange faculty and students with one or more sister schools abroad, sharing the same core curriculum.  And, as the inducement to make the skill of "cross-cultural competency" real rather than merely theoretical, these sister schools provide students with a key new "life skill" for the 21st century that will advantage them in the college application process, in their comfort with the increasing diversity in both college and the workplace environments, and in their overall critical thinking and discernment.” 


ISC Research is the leading provider of data, intelligence and research expertise on the world’s international schools market, and has been established in this role since 1994. The company’s knowledge and understanding of the evolving market means that it can help schools and investors to identify potential markets and prime locations, conduct benchmarking of a future school compared to existing schools in a potential location, and is also able to introduce reputable sector partners for school development and implementation.

Richard Gaskell, Schools Director at ISC Research, says: “schools do not realise there are options other than directly investing their school funds in a bricks-and-mortar sister school. In fact, an independent school investing its own money rarely happens these days. Other options include joint ventures which are quite popular, selling a brand licence which can be risky because of the lack of control over the brand reputation, offering school management services only, or a management and franchise combination where the school benefits from brand visibility and school management control which is a particularly popular option. This shows that, regardless of a school’s size or investment funds, international development is possible for many independent schools.”

The development of independent schools overseas is now big business. According to ISC Research, the British brands alone generated over $1billion in fee income during the 2017-2018 academic year. The US independent sector is still some way behind with, until this September, only 6 brands established internationally compared to 73 from the UK. However, there’s a growing awareness in the market potential and ISC is advising several US as well as Australian brands on potential sites and investors.  

Identifying the right international opportunities and routes to market requires thorough exploration that should not be based on whim, gut feeling, or the personal experience of a member of the governing body. ISC Research provides the necessary independent advice supported by market data, trends and intelligence. This advice not only addresses potential licensing procedures, foreign direct investment restrictions, student quotas, curriculum specifications, inspection requirements, teaching licence regulations, and controls on school fees, but can also facilitate school and investor partnerships.

No one expert can meet all the needs of a school’s international development project as everything from the market research to legal representation, business planning, benchmarking, recruitment, curriculum mapping to marketing the school will require skilled support with expert knowledge and understanding of the location. For example, it’s not wise to rely solely on domestic lawyers simply because they know the school in its domestic context. Legal expertise in site-specific education development is essential. This expertise is important at every stage of development as Finalsite knows when it comes to website strategy and content. 

Jon Moser, CEO OF Finalsite stated:  “We have worked with US independent schools like Dwight and Chadwick who have sister schools abroad.  It is critical for these schools to maintain their brand across all mediums. It’s the strong brand identity of heritage and academic reputation which attracts and reassures so many potential parents. It can be the biggest selling point for an independent sister school. The school’s website and digital presence is of course a critical brand platform and schools look to us to help them maximize their online presence through consistent messaging and branding.  We have found that when new sister schools are looking to recruit an entire international student body as well as recruit world class faculty, having a best-in-class website is instrumental to their success.” 

Website for Chadwick School

During the past decade, Finalsite has delivered websites to top UK schools including Dulwich, Harrow, Shrewsbury and many others. From hosting, to data security and privacy, and search engine marketing, Finalsite has the expertise to help a school, anywhere in the world, establish its online brand presence quickly, efficiently and with cost in mind. Having a school platform that is scalable means schools can quickly add new websites while maintaining consistent branding and messaging across the organization which is a crucial benefit during the development of a sister school, as Jon Moser explains: “Not only is it one less thing for management to worry about at a time when there are so many other details to plan for, but it helps to provide evidence of brand gravitas which is a huge marketing benefit.”   

At every stage of international development, seek out the partners with the international expertise to guide you.

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Debbie Eisenach

As part of Finalsite's marketing team, Debbie has worked with international schools for the past 9 years while living in both Asia and Europe. From conference planning and presentations, to association events, and client success stories, she helps schools understand how they can maximize their digital presence while partnering with Finalsite. In her free time she enjoys traveling and attending events at her children's international school in Berlin, Germany.


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