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Fragments II: micro stories about the learning business

The Future of International Education: Learning in an Age of Ryanair

Once upon a time, families would wake up in America, pack up their home and fly first class to a new assignment halfway around the world.

Life was simple back then. British Airways, American Airlines and Lufthansa were all busy transporting corporate executives to destinations around the globe, each location conveniently equipped with large and equally expensive international school.

Back then, eighty percent of international school students were children of expatriates. Today, despite the fact that the international school industry is now worth an astonishing $50 billion, the number of children from expatriates has reduced to 20% (ISC Research).

Today, a lot more people are flying. Similarly, a lot more parents are choosing to pay for international education. But to really understand what is going on we need to consider the Ryanair effect.

Photograph is passengers waiting to board a Ryanair flight
Life after the airport lounge: Ryanair has changed the way we fly forever.

Founded in 1984, Ryanair has changed the way people travel across Europe. Today, they are arguably Europe's favorite airline and, with their low-cost no-frills approach, have sent national carriers into a tailspin.

To cut a long story short, low-cost airlines quickly figured out that, if you can get a person from A to B, the destination is more important than the customer experience along the way.

Cut to the business of learning. Those of us who work in traditional international schools have had to acknowledge the fact that the new demographic of parents is perhaps less concerned about what they consider to be the frills - the large arts and athletics programmes, the impressive campus, the access to English-speaking community events. They simply want to know that their investment is sufficient to get their children to their chosen destination, which in many cases may be an English-speaking University.

There's a lot to discuss here and there is no doubt that the learning landscape is getting more complicated. Over the next five years, it is suggested that 62% of international companies are looking to increase their use of short term assignments (FIDI). In other words, the old reality is fading fast. At the same time, local markets are attracting new investors offering a range of affordable international education solutions.

So where do we go from here? I'm simply going to offer three closing thoughts.

First, recognise that there is no going back. Ryanair has changed the way we fly forever and the commercial airline industry continues to evolve, change, and develop. There is no reason to think that those of us sitting in our admissions offices are exempt from the evolution of our own industry.

Second, recognise that learning is not like flying. Whatever today's parents may think, there are some of us who would contest the belief that schools are just about getting a child from A to B. School is more than a conveyor belt to higher education, but we need to get better at communicating what we actually believe here.

Third, just as carriers have begun to realise that they cannot afford to focus solely on ticket sales, but upon other ancillary revenue opportunities (Strategy&), we might need to think about whether the school of the future will offer a range of connected experiences and services for the family and wider community.

Whatever the future holds, there's no doubt in my mind that we should strap ourselves in and brace for a few turbulent bumps along the way.

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