International schools offer skiing in Japan, attracting wealthy Chinese parents

An international school building boom is underway in Japan, fueled by big names in education seeking to attract children from wealthy Asian families, particularly from China.

Famous British institutions Harrow, Rugby School and Malvern College are setting up campuses in the island nation, with more than 3,000 new student slots to be added over the next few years, the biggest expansion of international education in the country since 2018.

With annual tuition fees that can cost up to 9.3 million yen ($68,250 or RM300,300), they bet that descendants of the well-heeled will be drawn to leafy campuses, an international curriculum and a menu of rich activities.

Included in the sales pitch: relative proximity to Japan, low Covid infection rates and fewer restrictions.

This contrasts with China, where ongoing pandemic curbs and a crackdown on private education are pushing families — expats and locals alike.

“We were looking for opportunities outside of China,” said Mick Farley, the new headmaster of Harrow International School in the Japanese ski resort of Appi.

Farley supervised the British School in Tokyo more than ten years ago before joining Harrow’s.

The London school, which counts among its alumni former British prime ministers and several members of the royal family, was already extending its footprint in Asia, and in China in particular.

But “the educational offer in China has become very complex; more regulated, more controlled when it comes to international schools and bilingual private schools,” he said.

In August, 180 new students will arrive at the school, which offers full board, access to ski slopes and a golf course, with annual tuition starting at 8.5 million yen (274.98 RM).

Farley expects a significant number of them to be Chinese, where authorities have cracked down on expensive educational efforts and ostentatious displays of wealth.

There is also a growing tendency to nationalism in President Xi Jinping’s “common prosperity” ideology that frowns on foreign or global influences.

Earlier this year, Harrow Beijing – set up specifically to meet growing demand from Chinese nationals, who are not allowed to attend registered international schools – changed its name after the government banned schools with Chinese students to use foreign names and words such as “global” or “international” in their titles.

The Harrow International School in Beijing, which only accepts foreign passport holders and mainly attracts expats, was unaffected.

Until the crackdown, enrollment at locally owned Chinese institutions with a foreign school brand was growing more than 10% a year, according to ISC Research and the education data provider.

China’s Covid-Zero policy is also a driving factor, with the possibility of extended lockdowns and remote learning still very real more than two years since the start of the pandemic.

By contrast, Japan has slowly reopened while maintaining the lowest Covid death toll in the developed world.

The Japanese government has also introduced incentives to attract private schools, with policies making it easier for investors to obtain tax breaks and simplifying procedures for opening offices and obtaining visas.

The Financial Services Agency also revealed plans to help match properties from top international schools considering entering the market and even hinted at the possibility of providing loans for investments.

Total tuition fees for international schools in Japan are on track to reach US$979 million (RM4.31 billion) in 2022, up from US$766 million (RM3.37 billion) a year ago. five years old.

“Wealthy families probably recognize the disadvantages of being in China and Hong Kong and are considering moving,” said Manabu Murata, director of Seven Seas Capital Holdings, an investor and consultant to international schools in Japan.

“Schools like Harrow seem to want to capture this market. They also hope families will eventually invest in the local community, such as buying a house nearby.

While enrollment in international schools in China is set to stagnate until next year, Asia’s second-largest economy is seeing the biggest increase in international school capacity in years.

huge market

While international schools have long been a niche offering in most countries, their size and influence have grown over the years, constituting a $53.5 billion or RM235.4 billion global market.

But as they have spread, there are also concerns about how they perpetuate the idea that a Western education taught by Caucasian teachers and administrators is preferred above all else, justifying a high price tag.

Yet this growth is attracting other types of investors. Hakuba International School, founded by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker Tomoko Kusamoto, will open this summer with a curriculum focused on sustainability.

The first students enrolled will almost all be Japanese due to the country’s border controls, which only began to ease this year. Eventually, the majority of its students will come from abroad, according to Kusamoto.

There is also the Jinseki International School, which opened in 2020 in Hiroshima, and the Capital Tokyo International School, which opened in April.

NUCB International College, a boarding school with a capacity of 225 students, is affiliated with a local university and will open in September in Aichi, central Japan.

Mitsui Fudosan Co recently unveiled plans to host an international school next to Tokyo Station, slated to open in 2028, as part of a larger development project.

Malvern College, the Worcestershire school that trained author CS Lewis, is building a primary-to-secondary school in Tokyo.

Built on Bunka Gakuen University property, Malvern will offer the International Baccalaureate program and eventually expand to 950 elementary through high school students.

Malvern, which also has schools in Hong Kong, China, Egypt and Switzerland, will start as a day school with plans to eventually offer boarding.

As competition for students intensifies, new international schools are pulling out all the stops in terms of on-campus facilities, providing learning environments that virtually any public school would struggle to match.

Harrow’s in Appi does not only offer golf and ski lessons. He built a 90,000 m² campus with a library, swimming pool, music room, art center, sports center and tennis courts for 900 students.

Principal Farley says the school has been successful in attracting Chinese parents, especially from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

A Chinese father, who plans to send his son and daughter to Harrow’s in Japan, said he was drawn to the school’s “great reputation”.

Asking not to be identified, the longtime Japanese resident and Fukuoka-based business owner said he had given up on moving his wife and two children to Singapore for school, and decided that Japan was a better option.

“It’s worked out so well for our family,” said the father, who plans to buy a house near the Harrow campus to make visitation easier.

“My friends in China are envious that my kids got into Harrow. Japan is close, culturally similar and safe, so it’s really appealing to the upper class in China, all of whom are keen to send kids to Harrow. abroad to study —Bloomberg

Kanoko Matsuyama writes for Bloomberg. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.

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