Institut Le Rosey in Switzerland has been the school of choice for royalty, captains of industry and the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent for more than a century. Yet globalisation has sent new money across old borders and antiquated societies, and the immense changes have left this great academic institution under pressure to move with the times, writes James Medd.
Winthrop Rockefeller and friends enjoying the snow at Le Rosey, 1965. (Photo by Carlo Bavagnoli/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

There was consternation in the most rarefied echelons of academia when a contingent from a small school in Switzerland engaged in what might in more mundane circumstances be termed “outreach”. At an event hosted by the Swiss Embassy in London, Institut Le Rosey appeared to be actively recruiting British pupils, an act as unthinkable as advertising by Eton in the U.K. or Exeter in the U.S. It was widely taken as an admission of crisis from an institution that had once seemed a bastion of privilege more solid than any monarchy, dynasty or even currency.

Over its 141-year history, Le Rosey has become known as the ‘school of kings’, putting all others in the shade in its appeal to the grandest and wealthiest across the globe. Much is made of Eton’s continued and even increasing domination of the U.K., with a prime minister, mayor of London, Archbishop of Canterbury and now Hollywood stars among its old boys, but even those who object would have to admit it offers value for money, ensuring lifetime membership of a social elite that is easily monetised. Le Rosey charges more than twice as much, and its status as the world’s most expensive academy is one of its chief selling points.

While most schools’ defining factor remains academic or geographical, for Le Rosey it is financial, and this is understandably reassuring to those who send their children there. Whether from Beijing, Boston or Bahrain, each pupil knows that their classmates have enough money to make comparisons irrelevant. If hierarchy exists, it is the classic of old money versus new. As the decades pass, different nations have delivered their youth to Le Rosey, reflecting the rise and fall of empires. First came the European bankers, then the American industrialists, then the oil-rich Sheikhs, the tech-rich Japanese and Koreans, and most recently the post-Communist Russians and Chinese. Some have caused more upset than others, of which more later, but in essence each uses the school to establish themselves in a club that brings benefits mere cash cannot provide.


James Medd


December 2021


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