SOME of the most historic names in British education are cropping up all over the Far East as top schools begin to tap the vast and lucrative markets of China, Malaysia and Thailand.
In less than two months' time, Shrewsbury School, alma mater to Sir Philip Sidney and Charles Darwin, will open its first international branch in Bangkok.
Last month, Dulwich College started work on a new Chinese franchise in Shanghai, adding to its Thai branch in Phuket. It may also open up a branch of Dulwich in India. Meanwhile Harrow, whose former pupils include Winston Churchill and Pandit Nehru, has a franchise in Bangkok.
Students from the Pacific Rim are also flooding into fee-paying schools and universities in Britain. While British politicians praise the whole-class teaching and high standards they see in Asian classrooms, many in the Far East see a British education as offering tradition and status combined with a more liberal, humanistic approach than their own schools and colleges.
Day pupils at Dulwich College International, Shanghai, will have to pay more than £3,000 (RM19,000) a term, for example, roughly the same as their peers in south London. Under Chinese law, only expatriate British, Taiwanese and Hong Kong citizens can enrol, but the school says it hopes the restrictions will be lifted soon.
Jeremy Goulding, the headteacher of Shrewsbury school, said Shrewsbury International in Bangkok would be providing a full English curriculum for 600 boys and girls aged from three to 18. It will be taught by English-speaking teachers, mostly from Britain and Australasia.
Dulwich College, where Raymond Chandler and PG Wodehouse were pupils, already runs a successful international school on the island of Phuket in southern Thailand. The nursery department of its Shanghai franchise will open next month, the full school a year later.
There are three main reasons why we're doing it, said Graham Able, the headteacher.
It gives us an international dimension, allowing pupil and staff exchanges; it raises our profile abroad; and the income from the franchise fee paid to us goes towards providing bursaries here.
Harrow, founded in 1572, started to turn out old Harrovians in Thailand in 1998. The school says it receives royalties from the use of its name in Bangkok, and sends out inspectors to make sure that standards are maintained.
The Far East is already a significant source of students for Britain's universities and private schools. Dick Davison, of the independent schools council, said that more than 50% of all overseas students come from places like Hong Kong and China.
The ISC was recently invited to advise the Chinese Government on maintaining educational standards.
In contrast with Britain, there's no ambivalence about the private sector in the People's Republic of China, said Davison. There are something like 60,000 private schools educating more than a million children there.
Figures from the British higher education statistics agency show that the numbers of foreign students in the UK continues to rise, last year accounting for more than one in 10 of all students. China has seen a particularly rapid growth in its share as the economy there has liberalised.
International students make a significant contribution to the wider UK economy. A report from Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors and principals, estimated that the off-campus expenditure of overseas students in British higher education in 1999/2000 was £1.3bil (RM3bil). Guardian Newspaper Ltd