Asia Pacific – Major investment for new international schools

While demand for quality international school places continues to outstrip supply in the Asia Pacific region, this year has seen a significant increase in the number of new international school projects. Rebecca Marriage takes a look at this rapidly expanding international education landscape.

Dulwich College Shanghai Puxi

Source: Dulwich College (Shanghai Puxi under construction)

Following a crisis in the academic year 2012/13, which saw the waiting list for school places in international schools in Hong Kong hit an unprecedented high of almost 4,500, global businesses in Hong Kong, dependent on employee mobility, were seriously concerned that they would not be able to recruit expatriate staff with families.While most international schools continue to operate at full capacity, work began last year on expanding Hong Kong International School to offer an additional 200 places by 2017. Nord Anglia Education, a global international school group, opened the Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong in Lam Tin in September 2014.In May this year, the Hong Kong Education Bureau announced that, following applications from 40 organisations, five operators had been selected to develop international schools at two vacant school premises and three greenfield sites.The two vacant premises, in Aberdeen and Tai Po, were allocated to the Harbour School Foundation and ESOL Education HK. The schools will open in 2016/17.The French International School 'Victor Segalen' Association and Shrewsbury International School Hong Kong were both allocated a site in Tseung Kwan O. Malvern College Hong Kong was offered a site in the Science Park. These schools will open in 2018/19.According to the Hong Kong Education Bureau, the new schools will create 3,490 primary places and 780 secondary places, and the five applicants are committed to allocating 80 per cent or more of school places to non-local students."The government supports the development of a vibrant international school sector in Hong Kong," said Secretary for Education EddieNg Hak-kim Ng, commenting on the announcement, "mainly to meet the demand for school places from overseas families living in Hong Kong and families coming to Hong Kong for work or investment."ESOL Education, a group that manages international schools around the Middle East and the Mediterranean, will open the American School Hong Kong (ASHK) in September 2016. ASHK will offer an accredited American education delivered by North American teachers."It's a great privilege for us to be selected by the Hong Kong Education Bureau, and we look forward to making a positive contribution to the growth of this wonderful city by providing a world-class education for its children," said ESOL Education's chairman, Walid Abushakra.David Roberts, governor of Shrewsbury's Bangkok branch, believes that the news is encouraging for companies looking to move assignees with families into the region. "Having more school places for their employees encourages overseas companies to either come to Hong Kong or increase their presence in Hong Kong," he told the South China Morning Post.Statistics from the Hong Kong Education Bureau reveal that international schools in Hong Kong provided about 41,000 places in the 2014/15 school year. The bureau is committed to monitoring the provision of international school places and taking whatever measures are necessary, including provision of vacant school premises and greenfield sites, in support of the development and expansion of international schools.Any family relocating to Singapore will be only too aware of the difficulties of securing a school place for their child. The quality of schooling in the region is extremely high, but, as in Hong Kong, there is fierce competition for places, and good schools have long waiting lists. But, again as in Hong Kong, welcome news came earlier this year with the Singapore government 's announcement that it would be taking bids for new international school developments, in response to the intense competition for school places from expat families.Nicholas Brummitt, chairman of the International School Consultancy (ISC), a provider of data and market intelligence on the global international school market, believes that the new opportunities for development opened up by the Singapore government will be excellent news for the international business community. "This announcement is an acknowledgement by the Singapore government of the crucial part Foreign System Schools, particularly English-medium international schools, play in attracting international companies to the country," he said."Availability of quality schools for children of international executives is a key consideration when they decide on a posting location," said Alvin Tan, the Economic Development Board's (EDB) assistant managing director and chairman of the inter-agency Request For Interest committee. "Foreign System Schools play a part in strengthening Singapore's position as an attractive global city and home for business," he added.The new Request For Interest exercise is likely to boost interest from new international companies. Several 30-year-lease sites zoned for education use are being made available, and, according to ISC, the Education Bureau is looking for a range of high-quality schools and curricula to meet the diverse educational needs of the families of international executives relocating to Singapore.With very few exceptions, Singapore nationals are not allowed to attend international schools at primary level in Singapore, so demand for places is closely linked to the size of the expatriate community. The government maintains tight control of the international schools sector, and releases land for school development only when it foresees sufficient demand for places.Dulwich College International (DCI) is one such new school development, having opened its doors to students in Singapore in August 2014. Dulwich College is one of the UK's most prestigious independent (that is, private) schools and has (through Dulwich College International) the largest overseas network of any British independent school, with five international schools and two high-school programmes in China, South Korea and Singapore.In April 2015, DCI celebrated its official Grand Opening in Singapore. The college, which is located in Bukit Batok, currently provides for 920 students, a number that is expected to rise to 1,300 at the start of the next academic year. The second phase of construction has been brought forward by a year in response to the demand for places."For an international school to open with nearly 900 students is a first," said Nick Magnus, headmaster of Dulwich College (Singapore), "and I have to thank all our parents and students, who have put their faith in the college. I am looking forward to the exciting challenge of building on this start with all my staff to create one of the world's best schools. We want to provide our students with an exceptional education that equips them with the knowledge, skills and confidence to pursue the opportunities with which life will present them."In 1996, Dulwich College was the first of the British independent schools to open a school overseas, and the college in Singapore is now the seventh Dulwich College International school in Asia. As with the other schools, the Singapore college has a diverse student population; more than 40 nationalities are represented, British nationals being the largest group."In a world where global networking is becoming a fact of life, it is important that we foster international links in as many ways as we can in our schools," said Dr Joseph Spence, master of Dulwich College.While the expansion of new international education and the new sites being made available across the region are encouraging signs that spaces will become available to assignees with accompanying families, the fact remains that competition is fierce for existing places at top-quality schools, and early planning will be essential to avoid costly assignment failure.

Finding a school place in Hong Kong

The admissions team at Nord Anglia International School Hong Kong, which welcomed students from Years 1 to 7 in 2014 and will expand into secondary, with Years 8 and 9 gradually being phased in from August, advises that parents should start talking to schools as early as they can about a place for their child.Rebecca Merrett, director of marketing and admissions, recommends the following approach:
  • If you are moving to Hong Kong for the first time, consider confirming your child's school place before searching for a house or apartment
  • Maintain an open mind about the location of the schools that you look at. Hong Kong is quick and easy to travel around, so do not restrict your search by only looking at schools close to your new home
  • Make a long list of schools that you would like to look at, and make contact with them all straightaway, to start discussions, find out about availability of places, and book visits
  • Ask your employer if it has any agreements (such as corporate debentures) in place for employees and their families for schools in Hong Kong. Some individuals also purchase debenture places for a school directly. These enable families to have quicker access to a place at the school of their choosing
  • Apply early for your child's place when you have selected a school, and pay any admission fees quickly. Make sure you have all the required paperwork ready

Supporting families in transition

Moving to a new country and a new school can be a daunting process for the whole family. The Dulwich College International schools have a system of pastoral care that supports students and parents alike as they adjust to life in their new location.A House system builds a sense of community within the student body and helps to develop students' leadership skills. The college encourages students to involve themselves in the wider college community, offering support to one another. The more-senior students are encouraged to act as ambassadors for the college, setting an example to younger ones and acting as a point of contact for students throughout the college. As a result, children are well supported and welcomed into the Dulwich community.Staff at the colleges also work with parents to help support student transition. As Catherine Hsu, guidance counsellor at Dulwich College Beijing, says, "We encourage all our new parents to accompany their children on their first day. It is a great opportunity to meet their teachers and to help parents feel more secure."The vast majority of us have also experienced moving to new places and understand how it feels to arrive in a new country and to be new to a school."A buddy system is in place, to make sure that new students feel comfortable on their arrival. There is a similar framework for buddying parents. Friends of Dulwich is a dedicated parent group welcoming new families and offering support for those settling into life in a new city.As a network of international schools, the Dulwich College International group understands that families often learn they are being relocated at short notice. Students are able to transfer from one college to another with minimal disruption to academic progress. They are supported by the same systems of pastoral care in each college, which can help to make the transition to a new city that little bit easier.For more Re:locate news and features about education, click here

Related Articles