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Development in South-Eastern Asia

ISC’s Head of Asia Research, Sam Fraser, and ISC’s consultant for South-Eastern Asia, Laletha Saba, have travelled throughout the South East Asian countries of Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia since August, visiting many international schools to gather market intelligence from school Heads and senior leaders. Here Sam and Laletha share some of the latest news from this region:


There are currently four significant factors impacting international school development within South-Eastern Asia:

There is more demand from local parents. The trend continues to be moving towards the enrolment of more local populations in international schools as key professional appointments at middle and senior management are increasingly being obtained by locals. This is boosting wealth within the local population in various locations throughout Asia.

Parents are becoming more savvy about international school selection. Many schools are reporting that parents are assessing a wider range of schools before making their final choice for their child, and increasingly considering school choice from the viewpoint of the pathway opportunities it offers to higher education.

Demand is increasing throughout the region. Demand for international school places is increasing throughout much of South-Eastern Asia. This is partly due to a relatively new demand coming from Chinese families who are buying second properties in places such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore which is enabling them to educate their children at the international schools there. These schools are typically more affordable and easier to gain a place at than the international schools they have back home in China. In addition, the international schools in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia are not regulated as heavily as those in China and so children can access full international education from Kindergarten to Grade 12 without the extensive curriculum restrictions enforced on schools by the Chinese government. While the cost of international education, plus the curriculum restrictions, in China remain high, it is likely that this education mobility trend will continue. Some schools are being developed to specifically target this demographic, such as Malaysia Shanghai International School in Sepang, Malaysia which is delivering a choice of Chinese, Cambridge (IGCSE) and Canadian syllabus.

New markets creating new demographics. International schools in most of the leading cities in South-Eastern Asia are seeing an increase in the number of students from Southern Asia, particularly India, relocating with their parents who are being hired, most notably, within the fintech and artificial intelligence industries.

In general, the impact of the decline in the oil and gas sector of recent years across the region is being counteracted by emerging business sectors and a changing demographic demanding quality, English-medium international education.

There remain some challenges of course. International schools located in the region’s highly competitive markets, such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, are experiencing the challenge of balancing viable fees with quality facilities, programmes and staff. Skilled, experienced, English-speaking teachers are in high demand throughout the region and beyond, and to attract them, schools need to be able to offer competitive salaries. Combining this with the need to keep fees attractive can put a significant squeeze on other resources.

Nevertheless, new international schools continue to appear in these locations. Oasis International School in Kuala Lumpur, for example, opened this September with over 100 students attracted to its very impressive campus, as did a number of premium British international schools in and around Bangkok including the first Wellington College international school outside China. More independent schools are to come to the region; Kings College Wimbledon recently announced the opening of a new school in Bangkok in 2020

In Vietnam, the international schools market has almost doubled in an eight-year period. The main talking point in the country right now is Decree 86 which superseded Decree 73 in August this year. This includes a relaxation on the cap limiting the number of Vietnamese students attending an international school; increasing from 20% or 30% (depending on age phase) to 49.99% (i.e. less than fifty percent of capacity). Local Vietnamese families certainly have an appetite for international schooling so it is likely enrolment will increase, particularly in the schools where fees are affordable to local middle-class families. Bilingual provision is anticipated to be in high demand in Vietnam.




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