Nitasha Silesh’s Swiss education is costing her father almost twice what the parents of presidents, prime ministers and heirs to the British throne have paid.
Silesh started last month at Leysin American School in the Swiss Alps northeast of Geneva. Her tuition is 69,500 francs ($71,760). Students are charged 29,862 pounds ($46,969) a year at Eton College, where Prince William, England’s future king, and Prime Minister David Cameron were educated. At Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where both Bush presidents got their high school diplomas, annual tuition is about $41,300.
Swiss boarding schools are the most expensive in the world, with annual costs of as much as 120,000 francs per pupil, said Christophe Clivaz, founder of Geneva-based Swiss Learning. At Leysin, teenagers from more than 60 countries study, schmooze, ski and snowboard. The local resort is open to students every Tuesday and Thursday during the winter term.
“My dad said this is a lot of money, but don’t focus only on your studies,” said Nitasha, 15. “He wanted me to travel and to do all the activities possible.”
Rockefellers, Vanderbilts and children from royal families in countries such as Saudi Arabia are among Leysin’s graduates. U.S. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and Swatch Group AG Chief Executive Officer Nick Hayek studied at the Institut Montana Zugerberg in Zug, about a 30-minute drive south of Zurich. Kerry graduated in 1962 from St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, and then went to Yale University. Most Swiss schools keep secret the identities of their students.
Most Expensive School
The world’s costliest school is Le Rosey, which has campuses in Rolle and Gstaad, Switzerland, said Valerie Scullion, director of admissions and marketing at Bishop’s College School in Quebec. Le Rosey, dubbed the “school of kings” for its royal alumni, charges 92,000 francs for tuition alone.
“Schools like Rosey are up there with Eton when it comes to academic opportunities, but at that price, the offer must go beyond education,” said Tom Parker, the dean of admissions at Amherst College in Massachusetts. “The food must be pretty good.”
Le Rosey has a 25-meter heated indoor pool with a sauna, steam bath and Jacuzzi, two beach volley ball courts, a skateboard park, shooting and archery ranges, a private equestrian ring, a sailing center and a circus tent, according to the school’s website.
The costs for Swiss boarding schools mean they exclude “a great many bright, but under-resourced students,” said Philip Smith, a former dean of admissions at Williams College in Massachusetts, which is rated America’s No. 1 liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report. He added that students who have attended Williams after graduating from schools such as Leysin and Le Rosey “have succeeded and done well.”
Silesh’s father wanted to be educated in Switzerland, but he wasn’t able to, according to his daughter. He sent his only child there after his textile company in India became profitable enough.
Le Rosey is a for-profit institution, while Leysin is not- for-profit. Neither makes its financial accounts open to the public.
“No country in the world has been able to market itself as strongly as Switzerland as the image of quality, stability, safety,” said Marc Ott, 38, Leysin’s director.
With the number of millionaires in the Asia-Pacific region equaling Europe’s for the first time in 2009, more parents have the money to send their kids abroad to study. The gross domestic products of emerging market countries such as China, India, Russia and Brazil may match the world’s most-advanced economies, excluding the U.S., within five years, according to estimates from the International Monetary Fund.
Brazil to Russia
Applications from Brazil for spots at Switzerland’s 12 boarding schools for international students climbed 20 percent this year, and the increase was 10 percent from China and up 9 percent from Russia, according to Swiss Learning.
“For customers we talk to, money seems to be less of an issue,” said Bernhard Gademann, president of Institut auf dem Rosenberg, a 121-year-old boarding school in St. Gallen near the Swiss border with Austria. “It’s academia they’re after, and they’re willing to pay for it.”
Even with stock markets in the U.S. and Switzerland down as much as 55 percent during the past three years, most Swiss schools had waiting lists, with Le Rosey turning away two-thirds of applicants to keep its headcount at 380 students.
“In Swiss schools, it’s not uncommon to sit next to a prince from Saudi Arabia,” said Patrick Gruhn, a German national who founded Montreux-based Rayan Partners Sarl, which offers advice on education to rich foreigners. “Once you create the bond in school, these are friendships for life. Maybe you pay 120,000 francs, but a few years down the road it pays off.”
Private boarding schools in the U.K. and North America also have stepped up recruiting from emerging markets.
“In Switzerland, you’re also paying for the nicer rooms, the better food and the more varied sports opportunities,” said Eric Brodka, an educational consultant in Munich. “In England, schools are paying less attention to the bank account of the parents and look closer at the qualifications.”
Along with algebra, biology and history, Leysin advertises whitewater rafting, sailing, rock-climbing and overnight trekking as outdoor pursuits along with winter sports. Travel abroad organized by the school includes trips to Venice, Paris and Istanbul, with optional journeys for an additional cost to destinations such as Tanzania, Nepal and Egypt.
The average class size at Swiss boarding schools is a dozen students. Classes are taught mainly in English and French, and lead to international diplomas.
China to U.S.
Yangzeyu Yang said she plans to attend university in the U.S. after she graduates from Leysin next year. That’s the “typical path of Chinese students,” the 17-year-old said.
About 95 percent of the students graduating from Swiss international boarding schools go on to university, said Clivaz of Swiss Learning. “Many” students end up at top-ranked universities such as Harvard, Oxford or Yale, he said.
Maria Luiza Lopes Camargos, 17, of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, has other thoughts about the rigors of life as a boarding-school student in Switzerland.
“It’s quite hard to be here,” she said. “I would recommend it, but Brazilians like to party and I would tell them to be aware, you have to study a lot.”
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