Client Affairs

The Fiercely Competitive World Of Elite International Schools

Jackie Bennion Deputy Editor 22 July 2019

The Fiercely Competitive World Of Elite International Schools

A look at how one private school in Switzerland is staying on top of a changing world.

"In a world in which artificial intelligence has an increasingly prominent role, the last human bastions are our ingenious minds and our unique ability to collaborate,” said Bernhard Gademann launching a talent and enrichment programme at his school in May.

Gademann is not the head of a bright new inner city academy but headmaster of one of the world’s top private schools. In the resort setting of St Gallen in Switzerland, the Institut auf dem Rosenberg has been teaching the offspring of old world industrialists and new world financiers for over 130 years plus four generations of the Gademann family.

His argument that schools are killing creativity by not adapting quickly enough to the 21st century workplace, not challenging stereotypes, and letting education become like a factory line that hasn't changed much in 120 years is a valid one, but might sound churlish given that fees to attend Rosenberg are around £100,000 (around $125,000) a year.

Like any business serving the global wealthy, private schools face fierce competition to win the rights to educate the next generation of wealth creators, investors, and indusry leaders. They are under pressure not only to define how they stand out but also how they are keeping pace with the real world.

For the 230 students from 47 different nations at Rosenberg, the emphasis is on getting them into real workplace envrironments, keeping up with digital tools, and inviting financial figures to be part of the curriculum, where in Switzerland there is no shortage.

In the last two semesters, managers from private banks Julius Baer and UBS have been coaching students twice a week on finance and wealth creation. “We change partners constantly because it doesn’t give you one set of views on finance or investing,” head of admissions, Manuel Bernardo told WealthBriefing in a recent call.

Bernardo, a former pupil himself, said that around 90 per cent of the parents who send their children to Rosenberg own businesses. “They have already passed on their entrepreneurial spirit to their children. We just enhance that natural drive.”

Financial education starts at the age of six at the school “with diplomacy in leadership and a basic introduction to the world of finance," Bernardo said. The more serious learning starts at 11 or 12, when students are exposed to more real-world aspects of finance. This includes taking them on field trips to investment firms and Swiss family offices where they spend several days in the different business divisions. “The younger ones are often just comparing what they see in their own family business." But even at that age, “They often ask, ‘Can I see the numbers?’"

Bernardo said that pupils are already challenging how their parents do things. “They can see there is another way and this is their opportunity to ask a portfolio manager how they do things."

Rosenberg regularly features in the top 10 list of most exclusive private schools globally by those who track the ratings.

The school doesn’t publish available places or how many pupils it turns down. It doesn’t publish exam results or the names of any current or former pupils. “Let’s call it the Swissness of our school,” Bernardo said, which is roughly 50/50 divided between boys and girls. In a rare exception to this hard line on privacy, the only alumnus the school has ever confirmed is Mario Molina, winner of the Nobel prize for chemistry.

What Swiss finance houses gain from the experience is access to children who will take over family business interests in many parts of the world and to young entrepreneurs already laying the foundations of their own business ventures.

Bernardo is even more unequivocal: “They are talking to true future potential leaders. That is the potential all these lecturers and partners take from the experience.”

To Gademann’s point about promoting individuality, scoring 100 per cent in the entrance exam does not guarantee a place. Candidates who score 40-60 per cent can be accepted. Far more hinges on the interview and how children “display character, strength, and natural talent,” Bernardo said. maths and English can be taught but these qualities are much harder to develop.

“Believe me, there are 8-year-olds that blow you away in the admissions interview telling you they already have their own company set up and their business plan. That is some of the character we look at.”

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