by Abigail Taylor, Group Commercial Director, UK

The appeal of traditional British education continues to gain traction around the world, particularly within the growing global middle class who are looking for a quality, international education. According to the International School Consultancy, by 2024 Asia is forecast to have over 7,000 international schools and over 5.5million students. As a result we are seeing a number of independent schools opening partner campuses abroad. Dulwich College now has 5 international schools in China, South Korea and Singapore, describing itself as ‘The Dulwich Commonwealth of Schools’, joined by the likes of Brighton College, Repton, Sherbourne and Wellington, to name a few.

This poses interesting challenges from a brand perspective. Whilst many are recognized education institutions in their own right, any brand embarking on international expansion requires clarity in their global positioning, and guidance on the flexibility that applies in executing this locally – to ensure they stand for something consistent around the world. The same principle applies within the UK system for the growing role of Academy chains – networks of schools that are connected to each other under one brand.

However, in this increasingly interconnected network of education providers, both within the UK and internationally, one thing is clear – those that can combine innovation with their recognized heritage are onto a winning formula.

Traditional models and experiences of education are being questioned. Those having left formal education today are left wanting in ‘real life’ skills. The educational market is growing outside the traditional school system with a burst of new ideas and technologies, driven through crowd funding platforms, incubators and startup mentor networks. For example, within the current generation of highly mobile millenials, more accessible learning options are opening up to help fill this skills gap – there are a number of massive open online courses (MOOCs), coding boot camps, YouTube and technology companies like Apple are becoming more integrated into the educational system, through initiatives like iTunes U.

Increasingly education is being linked more overtly to future innovation and economic competitiveness. The forecasted level of global unemployment sits at 212 million by 2019 according to the ILO, and governments are increasingly looking to the education and corporate sector for collaborative input to resolve the world’s growing skills gap. Unesco estimates that the global learning crisis is costing $129 billion a year, based on 250 million children around the world not learning the basics.

According to Deloitte’s future of Education Gov 2020 report, in the future we will see more of a blurred line between business and education, with establishments coming together to produce programmes, as well as teaching job-specific skills. New York’s Pathways in Technology Early College High School is the first school in the nation that connects high school, college and the world of work through industry partnerships – offering six years of high school, after which students graduate with an associate’s degree and a job with IBM.

And, at the younger end of the spectrum, destinations such as KidZania, blend education and entertainment to empower children to explore ‘real’ experiences. In their own words – ‘Kids can independently visit more than 60 exciting establishments that include a Bank, Hospital, Police Station, Fire Station, Aviation Academy and Theatre. Each activity offers a unique role-play experience where kids learn financial literacy, careers, teamwork, independence and real-life skills’.

The shifting landscape in education is challenging established business models and forcing heritage brands to reimagine their approach. Megabrands like Harvard and MIT are among those offering free online courses to the world’s students, through a non-profit partnership known as edX. Stanford and Princeton are amongst those partnering with Coursera. Using the online platforms not only to build a global community of online learners, but also to research teaching methods and technologies – throwing down the gauntlet for innovation and spurring the sector to work more flexibly, collaboratively and efficiently.

For many of the more traditional education institutions, this means creating an attractive partnership proposition, both to gain the new skill set they require, and to reach as many new students as possible. For example, Kings College in London launched a new partnership to offer online masters degrees with Pearson.

Finally, with the increasing cost of higher education, students are expecting a more demonstrable return on investment. And as alternative education providers increase, individuals need a way of comparing the differing education credentials. Technology start-up companies like Degreed, assign scores to help navigate this.

In summary, the shape of the education sector is changing rapidly, and the brands that can demonstrate trust and heritage delivered via a more entrepreneurial and dynamic approach will reap the rewards – gold stars all round.