China Elite Taught Global View in $103,000-a-Year Swiss Schools
“Some of the Asian students don’t know how to ski when they arrive — they do have a few tough first weeks — but most of them end up liking it quite a bit,” said Christophe Gudin, deputy director-general of Institut Le Rosey, which decamps from Lake Geneva to the ski resort of Gstaad from January to March. “Essentially if you don’t like skiing, you’ll have to learn to like it or go somewhere else.”
Swiss boarding schools, which groomed North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-Un, can cost about 100,000 francs ($103,000) a year, making them the most expensive in the world. They are attracting record numbers of Chinese students as the geographical balance of the world’s wealthy shifts East.
The schools, which can be double the price of U.K. and U.S. equivalents, set themselves apart with dual-language classes and pursuits that range from skiing to horseback riding. In the last three years, Chinese students rose to 5 percent of the intake at Switzerland’s top boarding schools from 1 percent, said Christophe Clivaz, head of the Swisslearning lobby for private schools and universities.
“We make the best chocolate, the best watches, have the best banks — and the best schools,” he said. Chinese students, along with those from Brazil, India and Russia, are the fastest growing student group, according to Clivaz.
While Switzerland is popular with Chinese tourists, the awareness of boarding schools is at a relatively low level, said Clivaz, who also is trying to build up student markets in Thailand and India.
Switzerland’s educational tradition dates back to 1880 when Le Rosey was founded near the town of Rolle on the hills above Lake Geneva. The U.K.’s Prince Edward, the last Shah of Iran and former kings of Belgium are all alumni of the school. The expense is justified by Switzerland’s safety, multilingual education, environment and activities, Clivaz said.
“Swiss schools do offer more luxury in terms of the food and the housing” than the U.S. and U.K., said Emma Vanbergen, a director at educational consultant BE Education in Shanghai. “The most exclusive, the most luxurious — for a type of person is actually a selling point. Only Switzerland could get away with it.”
In a vast steel dome that cost $52 million to build, teenagers at Le Rosey converse in fluent French and English as they mingle between classes. The number of Chinese students at the institution has more than tripled within the last five years, according to Gudin. The school has a strict quota system which limits students from any one country to 10 percent of the total, he said. Some 6 percent of the 400 students are from China.
Le Rosey, which stables 12 Argentinian horses for riding lessons and has a sailing centre, reinvests 95 percent of profits into the school. The dome for culture, arts and communication includes a concert hall seating 900 as well as music practice rooms and workshop areas for sculpture, photography, glass-making, pottery and fabrics and 3-D printers.
Switzerland’s neutrality makes it a haven when conflicts raise tensions between East and West. North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un studied at the International School of Berne as a teenager, a person familiar with the matter said.
About 11,000 Chinese are high-net-worth individuals that have $30 million or more in net assets, according to a November report from Wealth-X und UBS Group AG. That number still has significant room to grow, the report shows. The average annual income for an urban worker in China was just $6,300 a year.
In exchange for high fees parents can secure incomparable contacts for their children, Vanbergen said.
“At Le Rosey, you get this amazing network — it’s not just a friend in Brazil or a friend in Mexico: it’s government officials, it might be the president,” she said.
Swiss diplomatic officials help promote the nation’s boarding schools as part of the “Swiss-made” brand that’s renowned for precision and quality.
“It’s a very premium product,” said Pascal Marmier, a Swiss vice consul general in Shanghai. “This is not for everybody.”