Descended from a family of school owners, Christophe Xavier Clivaz founded Swiss Learning in 2006 after his family sold their business. His idea was to create a for-profit umbrella company that would promote and attract students from around the world to Swiss boarding schools. 95% of the students at the 14 schools and two hotel management colleges that he represents are foreigners. But India has been a tough sell. There are only about 50 Indians in these schools. Maybe Indians are reluctant to send their kids to boarding schools far away, or maybe they feel that studying in the UK or the US is a better option, or the cost, which could be upwards of $100,000 annually, is a limiting factor. Clivaz wants to change that and was in Mumbai recently on a trip to meet parents of potential students, and those associated with the education business. He spoke to MW about his challenges:
What was your idea behind the setting up of Swiss Learning?
Christophe Xavier Clivaz (CXC): When I started working for the family, I started travelling the world and I noticed that England had a platform called the British Council to promote British education. Australia had Study Australia and Switzerland had nothing. So, I always had at the back of my mind, that we must do something for Switzerland. And, when my family sold the two schools to private equity funds, I said this is the right moment to have your own company.
What is the size of Swiss Learning?
CXC: Our company has offices in Japan, China, Russia, Indonesia, Singapore, United States, Brazil, Mexico and Columbia. That’s nine offices around the world working full time for us. We work on behalf of 14 boarding schools in Switzerland and two hotel management schools. There are around 3,000 boarding students in Swiss boarding schools. In hotel schools, it’s difficult to say because students come for short-term and long-term courses. But I would say around 5,000 students.
What is your annual intake of new students into Swiss schools annually and how many of them are of foreign origin? How does it compare to other countries who also market their schools?
CXC: For our schools it would be around 1,500, 95% of whom are foreigners. Swiss schools and Swiss boarding schools always focus on international students. That’s the main difference between Swiss boarding schools and British boarding schools. I was in Britain last week to visit a British boarding school, and they have only 20-25% of foreigners in their school, the rest are Brits. In Switzerland 95% of the students are foreigners.
In Switzerland, we have this long tradition of international schools. If you take a city like Geneva, we have over 50% of population which is non-Swiss. There are 40 international schools. So, that’s why we know what it takes to welcome international students. The International Baccalaureate is a Swiss made program founded in Geneva. So, we are a small country which is really open to the world.
In terms of the ethnic mix of the students, which is the country where the largest number of students come from?
CXC: First of all, most of the schools have quotas; they don’t accept more than 10% from one nationality. So, there’s no dominance, there’s no majority, which I think is really good. But then it always depends. There are some schools that are more in the German part, so they might have a bit more Germans, and the same with the French part. But the big countries in terms of student population are Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian, Mexican, Russian and European.
One of our former Prime Ministers, the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi did go to a Swiss school.
CXC: She was in the International School of Geneva for a couple of years. That was way back in the 1920s or 1930s. So, the tradition of Indians going to Switzerland existed long before the United Nations arrived in Switzerland.
How many Indian students do you have in your schools?
CXC: At this point, we have approximately 50 students in our schools. India is a very interesting market because we haven’t found the right message to bring Indian students to Switzerland. I don’t know why. Even in the UK, they don’t have a lot of Indian students in boarding schools — there’s a lot in universities and we also have a lot of students in Swiss hotel schools, but not in boarding schools. Maybe it’s also cultural. I think in India, maybe the families are not ready to send their children at the age of 14 or 15 years to boarding schools abroad. They may be afraid of losing their cultural background. I always tell the families, when you come to Switzerland, we give all the tools to the students to preserve their culture. For instance, when Chinese students come to our schools we provide them Chinese lessons, Japanese lessons for Japanese students. We really try to maintain the bond between the home country and Switzerland, since everybody is a minority in our schools.
What do you hope to achieve on this trip?
CXC: Thousands of Indian students coming to Switzerland. First of all, I love to come here and it’s always fun to meet people and see a new culture. Secondly, we want to increase the number of students coming to Switzerland. It will happen for sure.