The last 12 months have seen disruption continue for international schools around the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, schools have made a number of changes to adjust to teaching during this time. Closures were commonplace in 2020 and schools invested hugely in their digital infrastructure to be able to teach their pupils remotely. Educational bodies have recognised that, where possible, in-person teaching is much better for students’ development and wellbeing. 2021 therefore saw schools adopt a range of measures to help keep closures as a last resort rather than a given. Teaching bubbles, face masks and improvements in ventilation have all helped limit the impact of Covid-19 on pupils’ education.
The early stages of the pandemic included lengthy closures for schools at all age levels, as countries tried to contain the virus. The scale of school closures varied from country to country, but a recent report estimated that over 50% of in-person teaching hours were lost for secondary school education in OECD countries in 2020. Expatriate demand for international schools plummeted due to repatriations and a lack of new assignments. Parents also understandably had concerns about the disruption to their children’s education and wellbeing. Considering all these factors the overwhelming trend during 2020 was for schools to either freeze tuition fees or limit the scale of any fee increases.
Our latest Education Reports showed a 2% increase in average fees for international schools in local currency terms in 2021, compared with 1% in the previous year. Covid-19 has certainly caused a slowdown in fee increases (fees rose by over 3% in 2019), but a higher number of schools pushed through fee increases in 2021 than in 2020.
Fee freezes were still common in 2021, with average tuition fees frozen or decreasing in 50 countries compared to 58 countries in the previous year. However, schools that did raise fees posted greater increases for the 2021/22 academic year than for 2020/21.
Schools have made large investments to improve their digital infrastructure and support remote learning, and to help ensure that classrooms are ‘Covid-safe’. It is therefore to be expected that tuition fees have increased by a greater extent in 2021 than in the previous year. These fee increases have not been uniform across the world though. The biggest change was seen in Africa, where fees increased by 2.9% after being largely unchanged in 2020. Fee increases were also above 2% in North America, compared to 1.7% in Asia and Europe.
Changes in fees only tell part of the story though, as the average cost of tuition varies greatly around the world. School fees are an expensive component of remuneration packages for accompanied assignments – globally, the average annual cost of tuition for secondary-level education in international schools is now USD 20 757. Although other regions may have seen school fees rise by a higher percentage, tuition is usually most expensive for international schools in Asia and Europe, where average secondary school fees are now USD 24 748 and USD 23 194 respectively. The latest fee increases are therefore likely to have the highest budget impact for assignments to Asian and European locations.
As well as regional differences, the cost of tuition can also vary significantly between schools in the same country. In Switzerland, secondary-level education is 28% more expensive than primary whereas the difference is only 1% in Japan. Meanwhile, schools offering a German or French curriculum often benefit from home country government subsidies. As a result, they are typically cheaper than schools offering a US or UK curriculum. For example, secondary level tuition at the Lycee Francais in Singapore is 24% cheaper than average. ECA’s Education Reports compare the average cost of tuition at kindergarten, primary and secondary levels. Our detailed school listings demonstrate how costs differ by age and curriculum, helping users make an informed decision about which international school may be the best choice for their assignees.
Where will school fees go from here?
Many countries have now experienced their third or fourth waves of infection. With the advances in vaccination and cautious optimism around the relative dangers of the Omicron variant, countries are increasingly talking about ‘living with the virus’ as Covid-19 moves from pandemic to endemic. The last two years have shown that further bumps in the road are likely, but there are key themes emerging which signal the challenges international schools are facing.
Globally, inflation is at its highest rate for four decades. Rising teachers’ salaries and higher prices for learning materials are likely to place upward pressures on school fees in 2022. Schools have also invested heavily in their remote teaching capabilities since early 2020 which again are likely to translate to fee increases.
On the other hand, the pandemic led to huge numbers of assignments being delayed or cancelled, and we have seen the effects of this drop in demand for international schools over the past two years. There are signs that it will take some time for demand to return to pre-pandemic levels - if it ever does. Recent policy surveys by ECA also indicated that unaccompanied international assignments have grown in popularity in recent years. On top of this, the pandemic has increased the appeal of virtual assignments, where people work remotely from outside the host country. In locations where expatriate demand for international school places is slow to return to pre-pandemic levels, schools may adjust to this by lowering their fees to attract students from local families with smaller budgets.
We continue to monitor the world’s international schools and track how fees change from country to country. We will next be updating our Education Reports in March when we will assess changes in fees for Southern Hemisphere countries.
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ECA’s Education Reports contain listings of tuition and other fees for international schools in 168 countries, so you can fully budget for this important assignee benefit. ECA conducted research on over 2 800 schools around the world during 2021/2022 to bring ECA subscribers the latest figures.
Our detailed and extensive benefits data is also available to use pre-loaded in our assignment cost projections, which can be purchased on demand or through our Assignment Management System, ECAEnterprise.