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Malaysia: New Investment Initiatives

By Anne Keeling

Malaysia’s international schools market has been given renewed focus and the Malaysian government has offered new initiatives for school development, as part of a recent review of the country’s Economic Transformation Program.
Initiatives include public-private partnerships, as recently used by British boarding school Epsom College, and foreign branch campuses, as adopted by Marlborough College Malaysia. Significant tax incentives are also being offered to schools and organizations that establish new international schools in the country.
According to the Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) of the Malaysian Government, Malaysia is on track to achieve its Gross National Income target for 2020 and is now ranked sixth in the world for ease of doing business.
As part of its aim to become a high-income nation by 2020, PEMANDU states that Malaysia is “focusing on nurturing the skills and competitiveness of the critical mass of the workforce and safeguarding the nation’s future by developing the minds, talents and capabilities of its next generation.”
It is for this reason that education is one of the 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) of Malaysia’s Economic Transformation Program and is prioritized as a “key enabler for all NKEAs.”
Within the education remit, 16 Entry Point Projects have been identified by the Malaysian Government, one of which is “scaling up international schools” and another is “championing Malaysia’s international school brand.”
Already a leading global education center, ranked sixth in the world for education exports, PEMANDU identifies a number of reasons why Malaysia needs to expand its international schools market. These include responding to the growing schooling needs of expatriates in line with the initiatives of the Economic Transformation Program; meeting the demands of repatriating Malaysians as part of the government’s Returning Experts Program; retaining Malaysians who would otherwise consider international options for schooling; attracting parents from other countries to choose Malaysia as a school destination for their children; and giving increased school choices to local, Malaysian families.
A range of government initiatives are available for schools and school groups considering Malaysia as a possible site location. These include the public-private partnerships approach of Epsom College, and foreign branch campuses as per Marlborough College Malaysia.
Tax incentives, including a five-year, 70 percent income tax exemption, are also being offered to schools and organizations that establish new international schools in the country.
Market intelligence and data on Malaysia’s international schools is currently collected and analyzed by the International School Consultancy Group (ISC), a UK-based organization that has been researching the worldwide international school market for over 25 years.
According to the very latest ISC data, there are currently 128 English-medium international schools in Malaysia, teaching a total of 53,366 students and employing over 5,486 full time staff.
ISC predicts that all of Malaysia’s international schools, including new schools, will see increasing enrollment of both expatriate and local students over the coming years. One significant impact on the demand and changing demographic of Malaysia’s international schools took place in 2012, with the lifting of restrictions affecting the number of Malaysian citizens who were able to attend international schools. A 40 percent cap was removed, and no new limitations put in its place.
This now means that international schools are legally entitled to enroll up to 100 percent Malaysian nationals, if they so choose. A number of leading schools in the country are aiming for a 50/50 ratio of local and expatriate children, in line with an increasingly popular, over arching international school ethos that combines both local culture and English medium, internationally oriented learning.
This option is particularly appealing for many middle class, local families due to the fact that the Malaysian national curriculum currently requires children in national schools to study mathematics and science in Bahasa Malaysia (the Malay language).
Epsom College is part of Malaysia’s brand new Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC), a recent development by the Malaysian Government to provide high quality, internationally-oriented education for all ages (including tertiary education) within one educational hub. A second hub, EduCity in Iskandar, is also in development.
This will be the first overseas campus for Epsom College, which will open in September 2014 with boarding and day school facilities for students aged 3-18. Once established, Epsom College Malaysia will have places for 900 senior students and 650 prep school students. The school is following the example of several other independent British schools; others, including American independent schools, are expected to follow suit.
ISC believes new international school developments over the next three to five years will contribute to a 39 percent increase in international school student places. “Plans to develop international education in the country are likely to produce an upward trend in the country’s skilled labor force,” states ISC’s latest market intelligence report on Malaysia.
The International School Consultancy Group (ISC) is the leading organization in the world for market intelligence on the international schools market. It provides a range of services to meet the market intelligence needs of schools, school groups, investors, and developers including key country reports. For more, visit

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