Wellington College, a leading UK boarding school and one of the world’s top International Baccalaureate (IB) schools, with a strong reputation for all-around excellence, will set up its schools in three Southeast Asian countries.
The schools will be opened through a regional partnership with Singapore-based businessman Peter Lim. In April, Lim announced that they inked a master license agreement to open premium Wellington College International schools for children aged three to 18 in Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Wellington College plans to accommodate up to 2,000 students in each school, offering early years, preparatory, and senior school programs based on the English National Curriculum and culminating in the IB Diploma.
The schools, staffed by an international faculty, will address increased demand from expatriates and local families who want their children to receive a good education without sending them thousands of miles away.
Wellington College is one such example of a British school that opened in Asia. According to the latest data (January 2021) from International School Consultancy (ISC), around 1,003 English-medium international schools for children aged three to 18 are set up in South East Asia, teaching over 3,71,500 students.
Six countries, including Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Singapore, have over 100 international schools each.
Sami Yosef, head of South East Asia Research at the ISC Research, said that the demand for international schools in Southeast Asia has been growing in recent years. He added that the trend is likely to continue as several countries like Myanmar and Vietnam are making significant progress.
Several countries are open to development and investment. Even though Asia continues to bear the burden of the oil and gas market recession due to the Russia-Ukraine war, which resulted in the departure of many expatriate families.
The vast majority of international schools in Asia saw increased student registrations in 2022. The number of international school students has increased by 15% from September 2020 to September 2021.
According to Yosef, the increasing demand for international schools comes from local families who want their children to have an English-medium education.
Vietnam: significant international school growth forecast
Vietnam expects to experience significant expansion in international schools over the next few years if a new draft policy replaces the government’s Decree 73.
Decree 73 is a policy that applies to foreign investment and cooperation projects in education and vocational training in Vietnam. It also includes foreign-invested tertiary institutions.
Until now, foreign-owned international schools in Vietnam have faced restrictions on enrolling Vietnamese students. There is a cap of 10% for primary students and 20% for secondary students.
Some international schools providing bilingual learning have escaped the cap, but many others directly impacted by the current restrictions have long waiting lists of local Vietnamese families hoping for a place for their children.
How regulation changes will affect international schooling
The Malaysian government lifted the 40% cap on Malaysian children who were able to attend international schools in 2018. International schools in Malaysia now have the legal authority to enroll only Malaysian citizens if they so choose. Most top institutions aim for a 50-50 mix of local and international students.
As a result of relaxed restrictions, the number of foreign schools in Malaysia has increased from 108 in 2019 to 170 in 2020. And the number of international school students has increased by about 30,000 to 71,500.
According to figures outlined by ISC Research at their 2022 conference, around 12 new international schools opened in the 2021-2022 academic year.
Malaysian students have had the most influence. In Malaysia, around half of all international school students are now Malaysians. As a result, numerous institutions are expanding their campuses to meet the demand, and new schools are being established.
Marlborough College Malaysia, which opened in 2017, Epsom College in Malaysia (ECM), which opened in 2018, and Gems International School in Subang Jaya, which opened in 2019, are all well-known school brands.
Also, the international schools with midrange fees, such as Taylor’s International Schools, HELP International School, and Tenby International School, have seen the most substantial development, with many students coming from Malaysian households.
Marlborough College Malaysia is the first independent, British boarding and day school to open a campus in Malaysia. The preparatory school accepts students as young as three years old, while the secondary school accepts students aged six to 18.
According to a Marlborough College spokesman, the institution is ambitious, open-minded, adaptable, and socially minded, with a strong perspective for its community and the wider world.
Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur is the most populous city in Malaysia, having 36 foreign schools, and several of them are experiencing high demand from local families. The foreign market has also seen the most substantial rise in Malaysia.
The International School of Kula Lumpur (ISKL) offers a comprehensive international curriculum that integrates leading North American educational frameworks with international best practices.
Rami Madani, head of school at ISKL, said that the study program at SKL includes a variety of cross-cultural experiences designed to foster global consciousness and educate students who appreciate the intercultural understanding.
He also said that students gain a deep awareness of the importance and impact of taking positive action to affect change at the school, local, and global levels through service learning, which is an important part of school life.
Cambodia and Myanmar:
Over the last few years, Cambodia has steadily increased the number of international schools. In Phnom Penh, nearly 20 new foreign schools have opened since 2020. The mid-market sector, the segment of American businesses with annual revenues roughly in the range of $10 million to $1 billion, has the most demand.
Myanmar, too, is seeing an increase in international school enrollment in preparation for economic growth. Infrastructure development in the country is already underway, notably in major towns such as Yangon and Mandalay, where new road networks are being built, telecommunications are being converted, energy supplies are being enhanced, and worldwide banking services are being developed.
Although it is still early and there is no education policy or regulations for international schools, the future is bright.
History of international schools in Asia
The first international schools were set up in the 19th century in countries like Japan, Turkey, and Switzerland, for the families of diplomats and business travelers. In India, British private schools were established with a distinct goal– to train the native elite to be British gentlemen.
A recent rash of British schools abroad incorporates elements of both objectives. They are designed to appeal to a mixture of globetrotting parents and ambitious locals eyeing a university education in Europe or America for their children.
Thailand also has a lengthy and illustrious international education history. International schooling in Thailand is supposed to have begun after World War II, although it has a considerably longer history, with the first foreign school opening in the 17th century.
In 1665, King Narai granted permission to a group of French missionaries led by Bishop Lambert de la Mottle to open a school in Ayutthaya. Later the Seminary of Saint Joseph (known as General College) became Thailand’s first Catholic college.
Another set of French missionaries established the first Catholic school in Bangkok in 1674 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Samsen. These colleges used French as the medium of instruction to teach their curriculum.
Chinese companies buying UK private schools
On the other hand, Chinese companies have bought up 17 UK private schools in the United Kingdom in recent years, sparking fears of expanding Chinese Communist Party (CCP) influence in the country as the schools struggle financially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, British media reported.
“Hundreds of independent schools left in dire financial straits by the coronavirus pandemic are being targeted by Chinese investors,” the Mail newspaper reported.
Some of the companies are run by high-ranking members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and seek to expand their influence over Britain’s education system, the report said.
According to an investigation by the paper, nine of the 17 schools under Chinese control are owned by companies controlled by Chinese entrepreneurs who are also members of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a body which maintains close ties between private sector wealth and the ruling party.
Private schools have been hard-hit by the pandemic, with plummeting enrollments and falling fees as students are sent home for distance-learning, the report said.
Before the pandemic, Bright Scholar — a company owned by the daughter of Chinese property magnate Yang Guoqiang — had already invested in several schools, including Bournemouth Collegiate School and St Michael’s School in Llanelli, Carmarthanshire, the paper said.
Bedstone College in Shropshire and Ipswich High School are owned by London-based asset manager London & Oxford Group, which in turn is backed by China’s Wanda Group conglomerate.
Riddlesworth Hall Preparatory School in Norfolk, attended by Princess Diana, was acquired by the Confucius International Education Group in 2015.
Ray Global Education, which owns two U.K.-based private schools, says the acquisitions were a part of its “Global Campus” project that seeks to promote the CCP’s Belt & Road infrastructure and global influence initiative in the global education sector.
The company’s president Hu Jing told Chinese state-run media in 2019 that he runs the business in accordance with “political laws, educational laws, and economic laws.”
“No matter how international the school is, it is still fundamentally a Chinese school, and it must pay close heed to the political environment,” Hu told journalists.
When his company set up a school in Shanghai, the first thing it did was to set up a CCP committee and choose a party secretary, he said.
British schools a weak link
Wang Jianhong, spokesman for the US-based rights group Humanitarian China, said she was surprised at the sheer scale of Chinese acquisitions in the U.K. private education sector.
“British private schools are a weak link, because there is a need for investment, and the CCP is taking advantage of that,” Wang told RFA. “There is little awareness of CCP infiltration,” said Wang, who lived in the UK for more than a decade.
Wang said any Chinese company investing in the sector would definitely need the backing of the CCP. “The CCP’s investment in British private education has been on the increase … and there is definitely a CCP background to these companies: how would ordinary Chinese companies manage to buy up UK private schools?” she said.
“Compulsory education providers in the UK are now owned by enterprises controlled by the CCP, and the worry now is that its ideology will affect what is being taught there,” Wang said.
She said a current review of Confucius Institutes in the UK wouldn’t be enough to curb Beijing’s influence.
“Even if you shut down the Confucius Institute, the CCP has other ways in, including the acquisition of private schools. I don’t think Western countries have yet realized the extent of the CCP’s involvement here”, Wang said.