Getting a Very 'British' Education in Asia, MidEast

From Brighton College to Harrow, leading British public schools are offering one of the best pathways to a UK higher education at international campuses in the UAE, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand
Getting a Very 'British' Education in Asia, MidEast
By Carli Allan
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The British international school brand has gone global in the past decade. From Harrow boaters in Hong Kong to Brighton College blazers in Bangkok, the look and feel of traditional British schools is being replicated in non-British settings worldwide. Since Harrow first opened an international campus in Thailand in 1998, leading independent schools such as Shrewsbury, Repton, Dulwich, Malvern and Brighton College have followed suit and opened campuses across Asia and the Middle East.

The number of pupils attending British schools overseas now outstrips the number of overseas students taught in the UK, according to the Independent Schools Council’s (ISC) 2020 census. British private schools currently operate more than 65 campuses abroad, educating over 46,000 pupils; this includes 15 schools in mainland China, 17 in the Middle East, five in Thailand, and the rest in Asian countries including Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam.

Demand for high-quality, English-medium education remains high – both from expat families for whom the local education system is often inaccessible and sometimes inappropriate, and from local families who seen it as a ‘passport’ to a place at a British or Western university. In addition, British independent schools have a reputation for academic excellence, discipline, pastoral care and an emphasis on extra-curricular activities. These schools are often rooted in 'Britishness'. Most will offer a traditional English curriculum leading to IGCSEs and A Levels, predominantly UK educated teaching staff, the same distinctive uniform as their home country peers, and boarding school options.

Home to a broad mix of nationalities and cultures, these schools have also had to adapt to their local market. While on the surface they may look the same as their British counterparts, dig just a little deeper and in some ways they could not be more different.

Languages such as Mandarin or Arabic may be a compulsory part of the curriculum; many are all-through, co-ed schools for two to 18-year-olds (in contrast to many UK schools which start at Year 9, and are all boys or all girls schools); there is the option to be a day student or boarder (many UK schools limit or do not offer the day option); the school population tends to be considerably higher than in the UK; air-conditioned sports halls replace the muddy rugby fields of the home counties; and modern high-rise campuses often stand in place of red-brick Victorian buildings.

For parents outside of the UK, it is worth assessing the connections to the home school. In most cases the school's name is franchised to an independent party overseas, who finances the campus and pays the home school a fee. One of the largest international franchises is Dulwich College, which has seven colleges and two high schools in Asia teaching more than 5,000 children. A franchise as opposed to direct ownership by itself is neither good, not bad. However, clearly if it is a franchise a prospective parent needs to confirm whether the values of the home and overseas school are aligned.

Finally in the course of our research we have found the cost of studying at a British school in Asia and the UAE is slightly cheaper than in the UK – around 10%. You’ll find the lowest tuition fees at campuses in Thailand.

Here’s our roundup of British public schools across Asia and the UAE for 2020-21...

Note: The following schools are all international versions of a British public school. There are many 'British' schools across the region that are their own brand. School groups such as Nord Anglia have been phenomenally successful in this, offering an international yet British education across countries in the Middle East, Asia - and beyond. In some ways unshackled by a connection, they can offer something in some ways even better - as we will discuss in an up and coming article. Watch this space...

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