New international schools offer more options for expats

Observers say demand is up as expats moving here are increasingly younger

When Britain's Dulwich College opens its doors here in a few months, it will already have waiting lists for some classes.

Gems World Academy Singapore, also opening this year, has launched more classes for certain grade levels.

The new entrants to the international school scene here will join at least three others which started operations or opened additional campuses here in the past five years: Stamford American International School, the Canadian International School and the United World College of Southeast Asia.

Others, such as the Lycee Francais de Singapour (LFS), the German European School Singapore and the Overseas Family School have plans to add campuses or move to larger premises within the next three years.

Demand for places at international schools here has been growing, going by the new entrants and expansion plans, and observers say this is likely due to expatriates moving here being younger, with school-age children.

"The age profile of expatriates in Singapore has been getting increasingly younger over the past 10 years," said Singapore-based global mobility researcher Yvonne McNulty. "The result is an increased demand for international school places."

"Many of the expats coming here are on local contracts, or local plus benefits, and don't leave at the end of two or three years like they used to," she added.

At French school LFS, demand has grown so much that it had to extend its current campus in Serangoon thrice since it was built in 1999. The new campus is likely to be next door and should double its capacity.

"We have been facing constant growth in enrolment of around 10 per cent per year for the past eight years," said Mrs Laurence Bigot, who manages the expansion project.

Stamford American has grown from 76 students when it opened in 2009, to over 2,000 for its new term in August, said Mr Brian Rogove, Asia-Pacific chief executive for Cognita, which runs the school and the Australian International School.

The Economic Development Board (EDB) estimated that there are more than 30 international schools here. The Straits Times reported last year that these schools have about 40,000 students.

Places in the early-years programmes seem to be particularly sought after. Checks with six schools showed that four have seen their pre-school and kindergarten enrolments go up in the past few years, while the other two are at full capacity. At least three have had to open new classes to cater to the demand.

Local children are able to attend pre-school programmes at international schools, although not all schools offer them places.

Demand for international schools seems to have been satiated for now.

The EDB is not holding a request-for-interest exercise for international schools to bid for sites with long-term leases this year. It has held three biennial exercises since 2008 to help ease a crunch in school places.

"The frequency of the RFI exercise is based on market demand, and there will not be (one) this year," said EDB's human capital division director Goh Wan Yee.

Gems principal David Edwards, who has lived in Singapore for nine years, said it used to be very tough to get places in schools here. "But with two new schools opening and the Government slowing the foreigner intake, parents now have more power to choose where to send their children to," he said.

Australian mother-of-two Csilla Sartori said: "The recent space crunch seems to have eased somewhat with the two new schools, but it may be temporary."

Her children will be in Dulwich College.