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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fight to Control British International School

MTThe British International School is one of the few, and priciest, international English-language schools in Moscow.
A Moscow judge is to decide Wednesday whether to accept a Russian company's appeal to take control of the British International School and eject its British partner.

The British International School is one of Moscow's few -- and priciest -- English-language schools, and has taught the children of diplomats, foreign businessmen and oligarchs for more than a decade.

It was unclear Tuesday whether a shakeup would have any effect on the quality of education offered by the school, which runs six schools under the British National Curriculum, one under the Russian curriculum and one with English-language courses.

The British company, Nord Anglia Education PLC, which together with local partners runs schools across Eastern Europe and in China, has trained teachers for and supplied educational materials to the Moscow schools.

But the Russian partner, Moscow-based Mayaak, claimed in documents filed with the Moscow Arbitration Court that Nord Anglia had "lost interest in the school" and ceased financing and supplying educational materials and "other resources."

Mayaak also said Nord Anglia owed the school around $382,000 as of Dec. 31, 2004, according to the documents, a copy of which was obtained by The Moscow Times.

Nord Anglia chief executive Andrew Fitzmaurice said his company was "vigorously" contesting Mayaak's claims. Fitzmaurice declined to elaborate, citing the ongoing proceedings. "Let's wait for Wednesday's decision," he said by telephone.

In a brief interview outside Judge Pavel Pertsev's office after a Jan. 23 hearing, the school's general director, Tatyana Anufriyeva, who represents Mayaak, accused Nord Anglia of criminal wrongdoing but refused to say whether she would pursue criminal charges.

Repeated attempts to contact her for additional comment were unsuccessful.

A British Embassy spokesman said the embassy was aware of the dispute but unfamiliar with the details.

Mayaak and Nord Anglia, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, established the British International School in April 1994, at a time of growing demand for English-language education in Moscow beyond the Anglo-American School, which was constrained by lack of space.

The British schools currently have an enrollment of more than 1,000 students, aged 3 to 18 and representing 65 nationalities, said school deputy general director Yekaterina Kriulina.

Kriulina declined to disclose tuition costs, saying she revealed such information only to the tax authorities.

One expatriate parent said he had paid $16,000 apiece for his two children, aged 5 and 7, to enroll at a British school and was told the tuition would jump to around $20,000 as they grew older.

Nicolette Kirk, director of admissions at the Anglo-American School, said $20,000 annual tuition was "fairly standard" for international English-language schools in Moscow.

The British International School is registered as a nongovernmental educational foundation, which means it legally has to reinvest any profits back into the school. "There can be no dividends or sub-dividends," said Viktor Matchekhin, managing associate and a tax expert with Linklaters, a law firm.

Nord Anglia, however, posted an operating profit of ?3.3 million in its international schools division last year, an increase from ?2.6 million in 2004, according to a copy of its annual report on its web site.

Matchekhin said the owners of nongovernmental educational foundations could indirectly profit by having the foundations procure materials and services from for-profit companies. "As long as they are purchased at market prices, there is no problem," he said.

Nord Anglia provides consulting services, such as the training of the schools' teachers and "whatever is appropriate" for the schools it owns in Eastern Europe and China, Fitzmaurice said.

He declined to provide any figures for the Moscow school, saying they represented a "small amount" of overall turnover.

The annual report said Nord Anglia's international schools division generated turnover of ?17.7 million last year, despite a year-on-year decrease of ?2 million "from Moscow following changes in the business structure of the school."

The dispute comes as expatriates are finding an acute shortage of space in existing international schools, and plans are being laid to open at least two new ones.

Shell, several other multinational companies and the Association of European Businesses are exploring the possibility of opening a new international school in time for the next school year in September, said Sergei Gorbatov, a human resources adviser at Shell's Moscow office.

The school's curriculum -- British or U.S. -- would depend largely on whether the parents of most students were from Europe or the United States, Gorbatov said. He said the school would have to push enrollment up to 150 in three years to make it financially sustainable.

Kevin McNeany, who founded Nord Anglia in 1972 and helped set up the Moscow school in 1994, said he was pursuing the idea of returning to Moscow to open a school offering British-style education. McNeany stepped down as Nord Anglia chairman in December 2004 to pursue other business interests.

He said he was keeping an eye on the dispute between Mayaak and the company he founded. "I sincerely hope an amicable solution can be found to the problem," McNeany said by telephone from Manchester. "The British International School is essential to the international community in Moscow."

One of the most prominent names to pass through the school's system was Nastya Khodorkovskaya, daughter of jailed billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The Financial Times noted her schooling in a 1997 profile of Khodorkovsky and his family. "Every day, a chauffeur and her mother take Nastya to the British International School, a U.K.-run school attended mostly by the children of foreign diplomats and executives," the newspaper wrote.