Where’s the next big thing in international education? This is the question which keeps me awake at night. Essentially, for the schools who work with me, it’s my job to know. It’s what I get paid for. Once I’ve figured it out, I’ll get on a plane and stay wherever it is for a few days, trying to network furiously with the local Rotary, Round Table and Chambers of Commerce, most of whom are very receptive and would like me to consume substantial amounts of whatever the local delicacies and moonshine might be; schools, some of whom are quite receptive and would like me to deliver some teacher training for free; and agents, none of whom are at all receptive and would like me to meet with an unfortunate accident. I then return home with a briefcase of poorly printed business cards from a variety of individuals and try to justify to my clients, business partners and wife exactly where I have been and what I was doing. If I’m lucky, some students will follow soon after.
In the last 10 years or so of my career I have ticked off the regular haunts around China and the Middle East (so far so typical), often uncovering new places to promote, market and entrench my schools. This in itself is not too difficult as you rely on a local network of peer recommendations to carry you along and facilitate introductions. Recently, regular readers of my articles (and if you’re not, why not?) will know that I’m turning my attentions to India, which is a market with incredible untapped potential, but somewhat lacking as a beaten path for schools with international aspirations. What’s more, if you throw in Pakistan and the rapidly emerging Bangladesh, then there are probably enough local delicacies and moonshine to last a lifetime. I’m certainly busy, but that still doesn’t stop me wondering where The Next Big Thing will be.
Identifying The Next Big Thing is a careful process and not to be taken lightly. It is not just a simple case of just picking the most dangerous country you can think of, packing your copy of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ and jumping on a plane. People have tried that and they ended up looking stupid. I still remember sucking my teeth when I read back in 2008 that City Academy, Bristol aimed to become the first state school to franchise abroad. The fact that a state school was looking to do this didn’t bother me in the slightest, it was the fact that they were looking to do it in the Democratic Republic of Congo, of all places. At some point, somebody must have sat in a meeting with some other people and they must have all agreed that was a good idea. Strangely, I can’t seem to find any evidence that this one ever got off the ground.
Needless to say, I pride myself on being able to tell which way the wind’s blowing so it’s always galling when I find someone else has beaten me to it. What stings even more is when you realise how obvious it was all along. This is how I felt when I heard about Malvern College’s plans for a new campus in Egypt.
Malvern College’s domestic reputation is impressive to say the least, but it is also fast gaining a reputation for building high-quality outposts abroad. Last year, I reviewed their first foreign campus, Malvern College Qingdao in China, which is an excellent example of how these kinds of franchises can be executed well. This year will see the opening of Malvern College Chengdu, also in China, but a campus in Egypt is something different altogether.
So why Egypt of all places? Well, why not? You have a historically well-educated country, born of an ancient civilisation which prized education and taught the world all number of clever things including writing and calendars. Embedding your brand in such a culture, you can be sure that it will at least attract some interest.
Furthermore, if you visit the Middle East regularly and talk to Arabic speakers, the picture becomes clearer still. The majority of Arab-language films are made in Egypt, the majority of books are written by Egyptians and the universities across the Middle East are primarily staffed by – yep, you’ve guessed it – Egyptians.
Then let’s take a minute to remember why the Romans decided to wander through Egypt a couple of thousand years ago and Britain was desperate to defend it during World War Two. Geographically and culturally, Egypt is the bridge between the Middle East and Africa. If you’re looking to expand, whether that’s an empire or an educational brand, you have a choice of two continents. Not such a strange place to set up shop after all.
Malvern College Egypt is due to open in September 2016 at their rather impressive campus in New Cairo and the plan is an ambitious one. They will open for intake into nursery through to year eight and grow the school organically from there to a not inconsiderable 1,500 students over the course of time. Looking for those sorts of numbers and opening as a day school aimed at the domestic market only goes to show that the levels of confidence shared by Malvern College and their partners, The Azazy Group, are high. Normally, an international franchise looks to court the ex-pat market, but given that this is pretty much tied up by well-established institutions such as The British International School of Cairo and others, it seems that Malvern’s decision to build a British school for the Egyptians is well considered.
What makes this project really exciting though is that they will be offering an IB curriculum in the sixth form as well as A levels. Given that the IB has become the qualification of choice in nearby educational hotspots such as the UAE and Qatar, it seems a prudent move and a step ahead of the pack.
As with all their ventures, I’m quite sure it will be a success. That is almost a given when you look at the attention to detail at their home campus in Malvern and at MCQ. What I want to know, just so I can get there a little quicker, is where they will head next.
Author Ted Underwood has over 14 years’ experience in international education as a teacher, manager and marketer. He is now schools’ director at Oak Tree International, a student recruitment and consultancy company for independent schools