DEMAND for private education in top international schools remains strong despite the economic slump.
A few schools have waiting lists up to four years long, and a steady flow of inquiries about enrolment.
Yesterday, the United World College of South East Asia (UWCSEA) broke the ground for its new Tampines campus, which will boost its enrolment from 3,000 now to a targeted 5,500 by 2015.
The campus will open in parts from next August, starting with the infant school, where the wait-list is longest. The rest of the campus will open in 2011.
Its head of college, Mr Julian Whiteley, said there is significant demand for places in the school. All classes now are full.
Similar situations exist at the Tanglin Trust School, the Australian International School Singapore and the Canadian International School.
Tanglin Trust has no vacancies at all, while the Australian school has none for its preschool. The Canadian school is also running close to capacity.
The Australian International School has about 160 children pre-enrolled until 2013 so they can secure places early, while the Tanglin Trust School has a wait-list which grows at a healthy rate each month.
The Canadian International School also has a list of close to 100 people who have pre-enrolled their children in the school for the coming years.
With its new Tampines campus, UWCSEA will join a list of international schools which have expanded their premises or announced plans to do so because of an urgent need for space.
The Australian School opened its extension for preschoolers and junior schoolers in July last year. Barely three months later, it announced plans to build a new 35-classroom wing for senior students by next April.
Another school, Global Indian International School, opened its third campus in Balestier last August.
Schools pointed to several reasons for the demand: more younger international students coming in, the rising appeal of the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme offered by some schools, and the entry of many families into the Asia Pacific region.
Even if expatriates lose their jobs, the last thing they want to do is disrupt their children’s education, said Mr Whiteley.
The new 5.5ha UWCSEA campus, which has a 45-year lease, is being built at ‘extremely low’ cost, said Mr Charles Ormiston, a member of UWCSEA’s board of governors.
It missed the peak in the construction market because of the recession, and final costs will be about 15 per cent below initial estimates, he added.
At the ground-breaking ceremony yesterday, the school announced it would offer scholarships every year for two Singaporean students from neighbourhood schools, starting from 2011.
Applications will begin in August next year for entry to the school year in August 2011, Mr Whiteley said. Each scholarship is worth about $60,000, depending on whether the student chooses to stay in the boarding school, and will be to complete the school’s two-year IB diploma programme.
Over the next four to five years, Mr Whiteley added, the school will employ close to 200 teachers from Singapore and elsewhere.
Mr S. Iswaran, Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education, said that the Government’s support of UWCSEA’s expansion – JTC Corporation is leasing the building to the school – underlines its commitment to provide world-class educational facilities for the international community here.
He added: ‘Even as we tackle the pressing economic issues of today, we are also building the infrastructure and capabilities needed to realise our vision of a global city. International schools are an essential part of that architecture.’
Meanwhile, Mrs Joanna Bennett, whose two children, aged five and seven, are studying in UWCSEA’s interim Ang Mo Kio campus, is looking forward to the completion of the school in Tampines.
Said the 41-year-old housewife who is married to a Briton: ‘When we first applied in 2007, there was a waiting list of more than 200 people.
“We were very fortunate – three months later we got an e-mail informing us about a new Tampines campus.
‘But I would still have waited if I had to, because I want the best education for my children.’
Source: Straits Times, 18 June 2009