If you are considering setting up a new school in Malaysia you certainly have a lot of things to consider. We have done this many times and in many unique locations.
We are here to help you along the way and have put together this quick summary to help you get started.
UK curriculum schools are definitely the most popular in Malaysia however all major curriculums including US, IB and others are available. What is unique however is that many children exit schools at IGCSE and either begin overseas study via bridging programs or complete A Levels in local colleges. This is in contrast to other countries where children would likely continue through A levels in the same school.
It could be argued that Malaysia is still a fairly young market in terms of international education. The demand is high but definitions are varied about what international schooling really represents. At times the term international school can be used to describe anything from a shop lot tuition and testing centre through to large K-12 institutions with fees in the range of 130,000MYR per year. It is important to study the market carefully and understand the best strategy to employ.
Feasibility Study and Market Research for a New School
It is essential that the process of setting up a school begins with this important step. Most countries are unique, such as Malaysia, and making assumptions can be expensive. A comprehensive study will minimise risk and also maximise your chances of success. Even if it is already clear that the school will go ahead, this research will influence many decisions in the set up process including Vision/Mission, Financial Planning, Curriculum, Admissions and more. Malaysia has a long history of international education and it expanded even more when legislation changed the quota on local students as well as allowing 100% foreign equity in 2012.
Is there a demand?
In 2022/2023 the demand remains high for quality international schooling options as the quality, standards and differences between schools remains varied and quite diverse. Satisfaction by parents is mixed and the fact that private learning centres and home schooling are still very popular tells us there are gaps in the market. Some schools managed the pandemic well and delivered quality programs to students virtually but others failed. It was a very real test and the key difference was strong management and quality of teachers.
Many parents are not satisfied with local education options. If they cannot afford the fees of premium international schools then home schooling* or independent learning centres are sometimes their compromise solution. As some of these options including flying under the radar and not all centres are legal it is difficult to find accurate data but it is estimated that 3000-5000 students are educated under these models. These options are a valid choice for some parents but it definitely tells us there is a demand for more affordable, private, high quality education options.
*Homeschooling is a valid and preferred choice by some parents who want a personalised home based education for their children. Independent learning centres, or training centres, are sometimes called “homeschooling” but by definition this is a misleading description.
There is recently less demand in the Tier One (more expensive) sector of schools as many expats have left the oil and gas industry. This direction was accelerated during the Covid pandemic period with many expats moving home or changing work locations due to their company’s economic pressures or change in strategy. In many cases the expatriate packages are also less attractive with reduced support for education fees within salary packages. As pressures grow we see schools compromising on the quality of teachers and reducing costs in many other ways. This is making parents disenchanted with some Tier One schools. Tier One schools also suffered the greatest impact under the pandemic. Some Expats were forced to change job locations and like all families faced financial pressures.
International schools with more affordable fees and perceived better value, are the growing market.
“Even prior to the Pandemic we were saying that Tier 2 and Tier 3 schools will have an increasing demand. This is definitely proving to be the case in 2021. The challenge however is that different tiers must deliver high quality teaching and strong management, however a large quality gap exists. High quality schools in these sectors will flourish. Poor quality schools will fail.”Greg Parry – CEO
Misleading Data That Proves Growing Demand
There are claims that there are 170+ international schools in Malaysia however this number is arguably misleading. The definition of an international school by some may range from a small tuition centre located in a shop lot, through to a Tier One international school with fees of up to 130,000MYR/year. The huge gap in the market between government schools and what GSE may define as a premium international school is wide. The expanding number of tuition centres marketing themselves as “international schools” and families choice to join them, reflects this gap and is a clear indicator that there are growing opportunities for more affordable, quality international schools.
Vision and Mission – “The Voice”
Although to some a school vision and mission may seem like an obligatory message on a feature wall, when you are setting up a new school these statements are invaluable. We prefer to describe this step as identifying the school’s unique “voice.” It is important that the school voice is clear and that all decisions about school design, curriculum, choice of staff and policies reflect a unique plan. Project forward to a time in 20 years when graduates return to the school and share stories of great times. How will they describe the school? What is unique about it? How will people distinguish your school from others? What are the “Signature Experiences”?
Financial Planning – The Business Plan for a New School
Both non-profit and for-profit schools need to have a comprehensive business plan that outlines a sound financial strategy both short and long term. We recommend a comprehensive 10-year plan with knowledge that it usually takes 3 – 5 years for a school to reach a sound financial position. Malaysia has unique characteristics in terms of legal authorities, governance and policy and there are risks associated with this. All these differences need to be taken into account.
Long-term planning is essential as it is easy for school leadership to become reactive and move attention away from the end goal. Schools are busy, complex and stressful places, but good management focuses on strategic planning at least 5-10 years in advance. It is also key to look in depth to the future as many new schools do not begin to make significant profit until after operational year 4.
Accreditation and Licensing
Investors intending to set up a private or international school must incorporate a
company under the Companies Act, 1965, or register with the Registrar of Society under
the Societies Act, 1966.
Approval to establish and International School
In order to set up an international/private school in Malaysia, applicants are required to
submit a proposal to the Ministry of Education (MOE) for an approval to establish the
school. Upon obtaining an approval to establish the school from MOE, the applicant
can proceed with the establishment of the school. The approval to establish a school is
usually valid for a period of two (2) years. In the event the school needs longer time to be
established, the applicant can apply for an extension of time from MOE.
Registration of an International School
Upon completion of the international/private school, the company is required to register
the school with the relevant State Registrar of Schools.
International Curriculum Accreditation: Use of an international curriculum such as Cambridge from the United Kingdom, a United States curriculum, or a framework such as International Baccalaureate (IB) will also require programmes meeting standards that will be checked and monitored by the Ministry of Education (MOE) . Most of these accreditations are best achieved by good education management principles and these begin right from the early planning stages. Education documents and the appointment, and approval, of a fully qualified education management team are required.
School Accreditation Options: A school might choose to pursue external accreditation as a way to validate quality. There are many to choose from and in Vietnam a number of these are worth considering.
The key forms of accreditation can include:
- Local Education Ministry License (required as above)
- Curriculum accreditation eg. Cambridge, Oxford, EdExcel or others
- Partner standards and accreditation eg. an overseas school brand or other form
- International accreditation eg. WASC, CIS or others (3-4 years)
All schools are different and the school design will reflect both local needs as well as the nature of the curriculum and the school’s vision and mission. Before you begin working with an architect, you must first engage a school operator who understands the school curriculum and the key teaching and learning priorities. Gone are the days when architects line up boxes with a corridor down the middle. You also need to consider capacity, class sizes and future needs. These include both educational as well as business decisions. An educator must be part of this process. Malaysia has unique architecture that can be incorporated into any designs as a functional and marketing tool of the school.
So how to stand out from the crowd? To match what the other schools in the market are doing is one thing, however it’s worth considering strategies to excel or be unique in a particular area that no other school has adopted. One of these recommendations could be a unique STEM/STEAM LAB that could be placed on a platform and showcased as best practice to the consumer.
Like everywhere, Malaysia has its own construction standards, costs and processes. This specialist field requires experts to closely monitor. If construction costs blow out or there are time delays, it will cost you dearly. Employ a very good project manager with an attention to detail. Micro manage and follow project timeframes carefully.
We can recommend some excellent Architects, Engineers and Project Managers in Malaysia. Contact us for details.
There are important design considerations when decisions are being made about internal facilities, materials and resources. Upfront costs are a factor as well as maintenance and function. This is a chance for the educator and the architects to be creative and exploit different characteristics of a building. For example at a GSE school in Malaysia, Primary classrooms were 120m2+, incorporating a mezzanine floor and a slide.
Branding and Marketing
Schools, and what they offer are a very different “product/service” than you might expect. A parent and child is joining a community. You are not selling a car. How you brand and communicate your key messages must reflect a deep understanding of education and what Malaysian families value, all within the local context. Study carefully and seek out expertise. It will make a big difference. We advocate strongly in the use of social media; the modern day “word of mouth.” In Malaysia digital leads are a primary focus of good marketing plans.
Building a strong brand image in Malaysia includes aspects such as:
- A well regarded education management brand
- Overseas brands, pathways and study programmes
- A quality Principal with an excellent profile and strong governance/management team
- High quality native speaking English teachers or very competent non-native teachers
- Partnerships within the local community
ICT is an expensive upfront investment and it is expensive to maintain. Get an expert involved. It will save you money by making good decisions right from the start.
Determining what you need and when you need it can be very difficult. Be careful also about the differences of opinion that may exist between your key staff. These decisions about what is needed and what is best use of money can be quite subjective. We suggest starting with a core list of resources and then expanding it based on need.
Any research will tell you that school management is the number one factor that will determine success in a school. It is essential that your leadership is underpinned by education expertise. Put in place a quality management team.
Admissions processes must be clear and have an educational rationale for placement. Your goals should be to accept children “whose needs you can satisfy.” Create admissions tests that are credible and use these as benchmarks for determining grade placement.
Your staffing plan will be determined when you create your financial plan. The ratios of staff to students as well as your support and administration staff must be calculated carefully. As the school grows these ratios will become more efficient so seek good advice in your planning process. There are many ways to recruit with varying costs but, as always, you will often get what you pay for. The best teachers work through the best channels. Also, be aware that as a new school you are marketing yourself to new staff also, not just students. Build a great website and promote yourself well to this audience also.
Also see our top tips for staff retention specific to schools.
In this initial planning phase you will not create a detailed curriculum but you must begin outlining the general curriculum plan. This will be different depending on your key priorities for pedagogy (how you teach) as well as your curriculum choice; be it British, American, Australian, IB or any other.
Standard school handbooks containing school policies can range from 20 pages to 100+. This comprehensive handbook takes time to produce but also must reflect local laws and government policies as well as the standards set by accreditations you have or are seeking. GSE builds handbooks, policies, procedures and systems for schools.
School Review Processes and Action Plans
To be the very best, a school must have review processes and internal standards by which it is measuring itself. A 10-year strategic plan must be broken down into an annual plan, term plans and, sometimes, weekly action plans to achieve key priorities. When a school owner does not have a strong education background, engaging an education management team will be important.
Training and Development
Employ great teachers but then train them. Respond to internal school review processes, academic data and feedback by adjusting practice. The most valuable resource within a school is its Human Resources and investment in this is important.
Timelines for Setting Up a New School
A tough question! Many and most of the above will happen concurrently. The different stages of accreditations may depend on each other as well as your recruitment of a strong team. GSE has a 100% success rate with accreditation. In fact we have a reputation for being very fast given our experience in the education industry. The building process may take anywhere from 6 months to a year depending on the size and location of the construction and the length of time it takes to complete additional approval processes. Building certificates and certifications are the responsibility of construction contractors and in Malaysia this is where there may be higher risk of delays. If you are using an existing facility or refurbishing one, then that might be easier for you, but just like any renovation, you can run into problems. Plan for this part of the process to take longer than you expect as you are depending on factors out of your control, such as government approvals or the weather.
GSE’s Opinion on the Malaysian School Market
Some parents are not satisfied with current international schools in the Malaysian market. (They are looking for something better and different)
Some schools claiming to be “international” and of “high standard” are not delivering on the quality they promise. (There is a gap in service to the current market)
There is a lack of high quality management and teachers in some schools. (Research shows leadership is the key difference in school success)
There is a large gap in the market for high quality international schools in the Tier 2 and 3 sector. (New schools at this price point will succeed)
Only good quality schools with “integrity” will survive in the next 5-10 years i.e. value for money matching quality of delivery. (The bubble will burst for poor quality schools)
The Pandemic has placed significant pressure on all schools. Some are passing the test and others are failing. There are opportunities for schools who can deliver quality.
Even if it is just to share ideas and gather informal feedback on a potential new school project we are happy to discuss over a coffee some time. Contact us to explore your ideas.
Who is Global Services in Education (GSE)
Global Services in Education is a company led by education experts. They are proven education leaders who know how to set up and manage international schools. GSE can lead the project from the initial idea to set up and full management. Kindergarten, Primary, Middle and High School, Universities and Adult education.
“I love great food and I love beautiful restaurants but that doesn’t mean I should set up and operate a restaurant. Everyone has been to a school and many have sent their children to one but that does not mean they are fully qualified and have the skills to guarantee the school’s success. The key difference between a great school and a failing school is its educational leadership. GSE has developed a reputation for being an invaluable bridge between education and business, particularly in unique cultural contexts.” Greg Parry, CEO.
Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education 2015 and 2016. Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.