A little corner of England

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 August, 2011, 12:00am


Along with several other British public schools, Marlborough College, which is in southern England is now expanding into Southeast Asia. But the college insists that, unlike Harrow, which will be establishing a school in Hong Kong next year, its Malaysian school is not a franchise. The school, which is set to open in 2012, is a sister to the British original, the college claims.

Marlborough College dates back to 1843 and has had many famous alumni. These include the late British Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman, pop singer Chris de Burgh, a sprinkling of writers and explorers, BBC reporter Frank Gardner and the 'The First Wives Club', which includes the wives of Britain's current prime minister, speaker and chancellor. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, is also a former pupil.

But what does Marlborough College Malaysia have to offer Hong Kong pupils? Key to the mix, says Neil Croucher, founder of the Marlborough College Foundation, is the balance of the curriculum.

There are debates and conversations within the classroom, along with learning techniques that set students up for life's challenges. It's more than about passing examinations, Croucher says.

Last year, 90 per cent of the college's students in England went to their first choice university, and 66 per cent went to one of the world's top 100 universities.

Marlborough College Malaysia is being built in a former palm oil plantation on 36 hectares of land in Johor, just across the narrow causeway from Singapore. It will consist of a prep school, a day school, which will eventually take 432 pupils (108 in the first year), and a senior school for pupils age 11, which will take 915 pupils (200-300 in the first year).

This will be a mix of day and boarding. Both schools will be co-educational. Each boarding house will have 60 students at the senior school, with a house master or mistress, plus two residential tutors, as well as visiting tutors.

The college is targeting students from Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. The annual fees will be about HK$250,000, depending on whether the student is a boarding or day pupil. That makes it considerably more expensive than the current fees for international day schools in Hong Kong, or the planned Harrow International School.

This sum is about two thirds of the GBP30,000 (HK$378,700) annual fee charged at Marlborough College in England. But, says Croucher, that amount is based on 2010/2011 estimates. Factoring in inflation could make it go up before next year.

There are no debentures, but the college is actively looking into this. They are also setting up an endowment fund with contributions that include donations from companies in the region. This is for gifted students whose parents cannot afford the costs.

'We see this as an opportunity to improve our brand back in the UK,' says Croucher. 'We are doing this as part of a genuine expansion. We're in this for the long haul. Marlborough College UK will not get a penny out of this new school.

'There are educational reasons for doing this. We looked at a number of places in Southeast Asia. We recognised this as being the powerhouse of the 21st century. Hong Kong and Singapore, which were good options, were unable to give us the land that we wanted. Then Malaysia approached us.'

The curriculum will be based on the British model, with some changes to fit the region.

'It's unlikely that we'll offer what might be described as minority subjects such as Greek. If you have a smaller number of students to deal with then you can't teach as many options because then you will end up with classes of two or three,' says Croucher, adding that it was important for students to understand a bit about Asia.

'It would be wrong to come to a different part of the world and have the same curriculum. I'm not sure that everyone needs to know about Henry the Eighth's six wives, for example,' he says.

The modern foreign languages will be Mandarin and Spanish, with French and German as alternatives. French and German may be introduced when the school is up and running. The Mandarin language offering may be of interest to Hong Kong parents, says Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart, the director of the Brandon Learning Centre in Hong Kong, which prepares the city's students for boarding school in Britain.

Many parents, she says, are concerned that while having a British education, their children will lose the Mandarin they have learned. Continuing that learning in Malaysia would be advantageous.

'You're buying into a classic British public education, [in a place] which is significantly closer to home than the 12-hour flight you currently have to go through. It's cheaper, because the ancillary staff cost less,' says Croucher. 'We're not trying to be an isolated 90 acres of England in Malaysia. We will embrace the traditions and religion. Of course, we'll have a break at Lunar New Year. Similarly, we'll be sensitive to Ramadan and Easter.'

English will be spoken at the school, 'and therefore the ability to be able to speak and write English and understand it is vital', he adds.

Applicants will face a verbal reasoning test, an interview and must get a reference from the school they are currently attending.

While British and Malaysian schools will have two governing bodies, there is an overarching group that will look at both and be responsible for ensuring a consistent quality of education.

Marlborough College Malaysia, 'will be managed and governed by people with Marlborough experience', says Croucher. 'The director of studies, the director of admissions, and the head of mathematics are all people who have had Marlborough experience. They've got to be good enough to teach at Marlborough College UK to get a job here.'

Students will study for IGCSEs up to the age of 16 and the International Baccalaureate diploma at 18.

The school secured a large site to incorporate playing fields, athletics tracks and a 50-metre swimming pool because extra-curricular activities such as sport, drama, music and art are important. 'They allow students to recognise their strengths and weaknesses,' Croucher says.

'If they find a niche they do well in, it increases self-confidence, which they bring into the classroom. Drama and music need discipline, rehearsal and practice, which are all skills for later life,' he says.

The school will also offer the Duke of Edinburgh Award, to encourage students to improve their leadership skills and self-reliance. Both students and teachers will also be able to do exchanges with the British school, says Croucher.