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Two international schools vie for growing Bratislava market

With the takeover of Bratislava International School (BIS) by a worldwide school conglomerate based in Britain, the city's two main international schools, BIS and Quality Schools International (QSI), seem ready to drop their mortarboards and fight to cement their respective positions on the city's educational market for Slovak and international students.
Nord Anglia Education Plc, the largest education company in Great Britain, acquired BIS "in the last month or so," said Nord Anglia's chairman, Kevin McNeany, and will operate the school under its present acronym as "British International School," starting in July.
The takeover will mean a completely new teaching staff. McNeany said that "the majority of teachers" at the newly administered school will be "recruited from the U.K." He volunteered the information that none of the school's former teachers would be "sacked." "They came to the end of their contracts, and are all leaving in a very friendly way," he said.

With the takeover of Bratislava International School (BIS) by a worldwide school conglomerate based in Britain, the city's two main international schools, BIS and Quality Schools International (QSI), seem ready to drop their mortarboards and fight to cement their respective positions on the city's educational market for Slovak and international students.

Nord Anglia Education Plc, the largest education company in Great Britain, acquired BIS "in the last month or so," said Nord Anglia's chairman, Kevin McNeany, and will operate the school under its present acronym as "British International School," starting in July.

The takeover will mean a completely new teaching staff. McNeany said that "the majority of teachers" at the newly administered school will be "recruited from the U.K." He volunteered the information that none of the school's former teachers would be "sacked." "They came to the end of their contracts, and are all leaving in a very friendly way," he said.

As for students, though, BIS's new student body will include most of those now enrolled, McNeany continued. However, he couldn't tell how many of them would be Slovak students, saying it was difficult "to provide a ratio [of Slovak to foreign nationals]. I only know we intend to provide a quality product and to satisfy the demand for that [product]."

McNeany expects the school to start out with "100 students" in September, but he sees BIS as eventually a school of around 500 students. "We know from experience that this will take a few years," he said. "We think it's possible for the school to attain viability and long-term sustainability in about 18 months to two years."

Asked if Nord Anglia had purchased BIS (formerly BAIS, "Bratislava American International School"), McNeany said, "the way we want to express it is that we have reached an amicable agreement with the school to be the successors of BIS.... It's not really like a commercial agreement. Education is a product related to lifestyle and cannot really be measured quantitatively. It's a much more qualitative sort of 'product.'"

While Bratislava is a small market for that product compared to larger cities in eastern Europe, where Nord Anglia has opened three schools, McNeany said Nord Anglia took "soundings via the embassies and foreign companies registered [in Bratislava, which signalled] there's a demand among both the indigenous and the expatriate communities for an English [basic and secondary level] education, with the possibility of an international [university] education later on."

Asked if the potential competitor represents a threat to QSI in Bratislava, its director, Robert Jones, Jr., said he welcomes BIS's new ownership. "If they want to invest in it, super.... We have nothing to do with [the new BIS]. We've had a school here for two and a half years; what the heck do you think we've been doing? ...We have always had a cordial relationship with BIS."

However, McNeany indicated the new BIS would reflect a significant educational alternative to the American education offered at schools like QSI. "The appeal of a British-style school is very broadly based," he said. "Countries of the former empire and those of Europe are the main markets for a British-style education.... Our philosophy is more within the European mainstream."

McNeany pointed to Nord Anglia's schools in Prague, Warsaw and Moscow as reflecting the success of the British method. "We have managed to fuse local curricula with our own.... [BIS's] Slovak students will be fluent in English, and will have qualifications in Slovakia as well as on the international stage."

Jones responded heatedly to the question of whether the British school's educational methods would draw students from QSI to BIS. "If you're going to report on this, you'd better be conversant on the subject," Jones said. "If you think you're going to depict this as a 'pitted-against' situation, you've got another think coming, champ."

The competition

McNeany did say that both Nord Anglia and QSI "recognize that there are different styles of education. We think there is room [in Bratislava] for both. I think we both value this [fact], and that it's the parents' right to have a choice."

For now, both schools seem to be ready to invest a good deal of money to be able to tip the edge. BIS's chief administrative secretary, Eva Brlej, said that Nord Anglia had already spent $20,000 on new equipment, and "they plan to buy much more." McNeany added that the company plans to invest up to $250,000 in re-furnishing and providing new equipment at the school.

Speaking of re-furnishing, Nord Anglia means head-to-toe. "They're planning to re-furnish the school completely," Brlej said, adding that the school's students would henceforth wear uniforms, in keeping with a proper British education. "We're now investigating whether we can make the uniforms here or if we should import them from Britain," Brlej added.

While BIS plans to refurnish, QSI is about to build brand new premises. Jones confirmed that QSI is currently scouting locations in Bratislava for building a new adjunct to the school, whose main campus is at Iuventa, in the Karlova Ves district of Bratislava. However, Jones would not say where in the city the school was considering building. "We would estimate [the cost of the new building at] $2.5-$3 million, but it's a very rough estimate," Jones said.

Jones said tuition at QSI is $4,400 for three- and four-year-old pre-school children, $6,900 for five-year-olds, and $9,200 for children ages six to 16. Mc Neany countered that BIS's tuition will cost between $5,450 for three- and four-year-old nursery students and $7,750 for ninth-year secondary students, aged 13-14.

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