Globalisation and the increase in movement of workers around the world have turned the traditional model of foreign students flocking to Western educational establishments on its head. With the growth of emerging economies, as well as local demand for quality education, is creating opportunities for top schools and universities to export their brands abroad. The result is the evolution of a number of education hubs around the world.

Warm welcome

Indian business school SP Jain Centre of Management set up a campus in Singapore in 2006. The school described the welcome given to the centre as a large contributor to the choice of location. Other factors were the country’s proximity to global companies, its excellent infrastructure and good living standards. The school also has campuses in Dubai and Mumbai.


Education has become a big part of Singapore’s economic development strategy and the country’s leadership has actively encouraged international educational establishments to come to the city-state. The University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business and European business school Insead were two of the first to set up there.

More than 16 overseas universities, including MIT, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Stanford University from the US, the Technical University of Munich and Shanghai Jiao Tong University have opted for a presence in Singapore. City authorities say it attracted 80,000 international students last autumn and hopes to raise that number to 150,000 by 2015.

Insead opened its Singapore campus in 2000. The school’s plan to expand abroad had been a long time coming, says dean Frank Brown. “The seeds for moving into Asia were sown in the 1970s by a group of influential professors who saw the development of Asia as key to the world and wanted to put down roots there,” says Mr Brown.

Paris-based Insead looked at several locations but considered Singapore to be a melting pot for Asia and the rest of the world. It was a welcoming environment in terms of government, infrastructure, quality of relationships and strategic location, says Mr Brown, but there were no financial incentives to locate there. In 2000, the Singapore campus comprised a pathfinder group of about 50 students.

At that time, no one envisaged the school would grow to more than 300 students and 45 faculty members, and into the significant executive education hub it now is. “The eventual growth of the Singapore campus became apparent in 2003 and 2004,” says Mr Brown.

He acknowledges that operating a multi-campus model on two separate continents is a task that throws up logistical difficulties. “Communications is obviously a challenge and as the dean I often find I need to be in two places at once,” says Mr Brown, who lives in France and travels to Singapore about 10 times a year.

Middle East push

Insead also opened an Abu Dhabi centre in 2007 – which is a “physical location for research and executive education teaching, not a campus yet but it will become one”, says Mr Brown. Abu Dhabi was chosen for its strategic location between the school’s main campus, just outside Paris, and Singapore. Also, at the time of making the decision there was a push to attract global education establishments to the Middle East. “Again, like Singapore, Abu Dhabi is a multicultural melting pot and a very welcoming environment,” says Mr Brown.

Some educational programmes that the school offers at the site are targeted towards students local to the emirates but most are designed to have a global reach.

In theory, traditional locations such as London, Paris and New York will not suffer, according to Mr Brown. “If you look at the number of people coming out of the emerging world looking for an education, I do not see any sign of shrinking populations in traditional education hubs,” he says.

And certainly data from UK university application centre UCAS, released in October last year, supports his assertion. It shows an 11.1% rise in foreign student applications in 2009 to British universities, with a surge from Singapore applicants.

Government aim

According to David Lyscom, chief executive of the independent body representing private schools in the UK, attracting and retaining overseas students is in line with the government’s aim of creating a knowledge-based economy.

Though foreign students account for a small proportion of the 512,000 private school students, they are critical to the survival of many boarding schools. So much so, that many famous schools are looking to harness the benefits of globalisation.

Prestigious British private school Harrow has sister schools in Bangkok and Beijing. Similarly, London-based Dulwich College is planning to have its three franchise schools in China – located in Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou – fully operational by 2013. Former Bank of England governor Lord George, now chairman of the college governors, says the schools will enable Dulwich College to increase the provision of bursaries in the UK. The move is expected to lead to further campuses being established internationally.

Launching a school in India or China serves a much more local market than the postgraduate business colleges of Singapore or the Gulf. India and China are much less multicultural and have relatively small expatriate communities. Gourdonstoun, the private school famed for educating the British royal family, announced in September last year that it is considering opening a sister school in India.

The school’s headmaster, Mark Pyper, says a potential Indian school would present good market opportunities to spread the Gourdonstoun name abroad and create a source of income for the school, although the financial case was not the driving force, he adds.

The school decided on India for its potential first expansion because of the country’s private school tradition is compatible with the British system. As well as serving the local market, Mr Pyper expects the Indian school to attract students from all over the developing world, as far as away as China and Africa.

Targeting the Gulf

Many UK private schools are also seeing an opportunity for global expansion to the Gulf to capitalise on demand from expatriates. Private school Oundle will open a school in Dubai this year, Wellington College is to open a sister school in Bahrain in 2010 and Brighton College is to establish a school in Abu Dhabi.

A rapidly growing expatriate population, good infrastructure and living standards are all contributing to the evolution of the Gulf as a global educational hub. This reflects the growing trend for taking education where there is a growing requirement rather than, as previously, high-quality education services being confined within the hallowed walls of a number of traditional institutions at fixed geographic locations.