Eastern ambitions

More and more institutions are planning to expand into Asia. Anne Keeling looks at how three leading independent schools have fared

A growing number of prestigious UK independent schools are establishing themselves with significant success internationally. Schools such as Harrow, Shrewsbury, Dulwich and Brighton College have already forged significant reputations in Asia, particularly in South East Asia and the Middle East where the demand for high-quality, English-medium education is the greatest.

According to market intelligence by ISC Research (part of the International School Consultancy Group), which has supplied data and analysis on the international schools market for more than 20 years, an increasing number of UK independent schools have ambitious plans to expand. Wellington College and Harrow International opened campuses in China this September, and Dulwich College, which now has seven schools in Asia, opened a new school in Singapore. 

Dulwich College (Singapore)

Nick Magnus, headmaster of Dulwich College in Singapore, explains the choice of location for the new school: “Singapore meets our goal to bring Dulwich education to more students around the world by locating schools in major capital cities or commercial centres. We were enthusiastically received and had tremendous support and encouragement from the Singapore government, particularly the Economic Development Board, to help us found the school here.”

Dulwich College in Singapore opened this September with 888 students and will have capacity for 2,500 upon completion of its second phase of development. “We are operating waiting lists in most year groups and have a significant number of applications for next year already,” says Nick. “As a result, the school has accelerated its development plans; bringing forward our final phase by one year.”

Singapore is one of a few counties across Asia which limits attendance in international schools for its national citizens – in Singapore’s case, for local primary children. Demand for places at international schools in Singapore is therefore closely linked to the size of the expatriate community. “The Singapore government maintains tight control of the international schools sector, and releases land for school development only when it foresees sufficient demand for places,” explains chairman of ISC Research, Nicholas Brummitt. “As a result, some of the top international schools are oversubscribed and have long waiting lists. A number of new schools will open over the next few years to help increase capacity at the premium end of the market by 5,000 places.”

Dulwich College (Singapore), which follows a dual language approach (with students learning in both English and Mandarin), has over 40 different student nationalities attending the school and 10 nationalities of teaching staff, although most are from Britain. 

Marlborough College Malaysia

In neighbouring Malaysia, student demographics are different. In its bid to establish the country as a top-quality education destination, the Malaysian government recently introduced several measures to encourage the establishment of new international schools. This included the removal of restrictions on the number of local students allowed to attend. As a result, demand from local families has increased, especially so since the government introduced a requirement within the country’s public schools to teach all subjects in the local language (science and mathematics had previously been taught in English).

The latest data from ISC Research indicates that local students now account for at least 50 per cent of Malaysia’s international school enrolment and this number is expected to rise. “Malaysia has seen the most significant rate of growth in student enrolment of all the countries in South East Asia in the past five years,” says Nicholas Brummitt. “Many of the top international schools are full and have waiting lists.”

Marlborough College opened in Malaysia in 2012. Founding master of the school Bob Pick explains what attracted Marlborough College to the country: “We recognised Asia as a region of economic expansion and wanted to come to a country that had understanding and experience of British education. One of our major requirements was a campus which provided young people with the opportunity to run around and have space (the school is built on 90 acres with an international-size cricket ground). Malaysia fitted the bill and also imposed no restrictions or quotas on numbers, or curriculum specifications.”

Thirty-six nationalities of student are represented at the school; 60 per cent are expatriates, mostly British, 21 per cent are Malaysians and 8 per cent Singaporean. Teaching staff in the main are from the UK with Chinese and local language teachers too.

The school opened with 350 students and began this new academic year with 730, almost 200 of whom are boarders. “Next year we will have just over 800 pupils and at that point we have to build phase two to ensure we can reach our maximum capacity of around 1,250 by 2019-20,” says Bob Pick. 

Wellington College International China

In China, significant growth of the international schools market is predicted by ISC Research if current restrictions by the Chinese government regarding attendance by local children are lifted as expected.

In the meantime, mostly expatriates fill the growing number of international schools there. Wellington College has two schools in China: in Tianjin, which opened in 2011, and Shanghai, which opened this August.

Joy Qiao is the chair of governors at Wellington College International China and describes the learning approach of the two schools: “The core of learning is derived from the British national curriculum, adapted to embrace the globally recognised and innovative programmes of the International Baccalaureate Organisation. Immersing our pupils in Chinese language and culture will provide them with the tools and confidence they need to succeed beyond the classroom. With the encouragement of the Chinese government in both Tianjin and Shanghai, the college has been able to grow and develop its links within China, allowing for the vision of a truly international curriculum to be realised.”

Wellington College Tianjin, which has 350 students from at least 20 nationalities, is now considered one of the top choices for international education in the city. Its new school in Shanghai opened with more than 300 students.

China’s increasing desire to conduct international business coupled with growing populations of foreign nationals means that the demand for an international education is steadily growing. “More diversity will come to China, as it will to the rest of the world over the coming decades,” says Joy Qiao. “As the importance of a good education will never disappear, the market for good schools will always be growing.”

Marlborough College’s Bob Pick says it’s the teaching and learning that is setting many of the international schools apart: “British education retains a strong reputation throughout the world and in particular the independent sector at prep and secondary level. The opportunity for many to experience this style of education much closer to home (and at a lower cost) makes it an attractive proposition for many families.” 

The challenges for independent schools abroad

However, says Nicholas Brummitt of ISC Research, “it isn’t an easy proposition for a UK independent school to start an international operation. As well as restrictions on local students attending foreign-owned and -run schools in some countries, and widely varying demographic influences, international schools face a variety of government controls and requirements which can include complex licensing procedures, fee controls, teaching licences and strict standard and accreditation expectations. In most instances, a local partner is either obligatory or highly desirable. There is much to know and many potential pitfalls. Schools should expect any new international development to be challenging.”

Nevertheless, it’s a market that a growing number of UK independent schools are looking to be a part of as the demand for school places from wealthy local families grows. “Today there is a massive demand for English-speaking education all over the world,” concludes Nicholas Brummitt. “The future growth of international schools is down to the growing number of affluent parents who want an English-medium education for their child. For the international branches of UK independent schools, it’s down to the increasing number of parents who are saying; ‘How much am I willing to pay for a UK independent quality education to ensure the best possible opportunities for attendance in one of the world’s premium universities for my child?’”

You can read more information about the international developments of Dulwich, Wellington and Marlborough Colleges on the International School Consultancy Group website: www.iscresearch.com . ISC Research is the leading provider of data and market intelligence for the international schools market. For details about ISC Research international school market reports and data relevant for the UK independent school sector contact ISC chairman Nicholas Brummitt at nb@isc.uk.com

Anne Keeling, The International School Consultancy Group W: www.iscresearch.com

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