Bringing a British Dimension to Malaysia's Education System

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A Malaysian entrepreneur and alumnus of the prestigious English independent school Epsom College is celebrating his vision for a duplicate school in his homeland as building work gets underway following a high profile groundbreaking ceremony in August.

Epsom College in Malaysia is the brainchild of Tony Fernandes, founder and CEO of AirAsia and the Tune Group and owner of the Lotus Formula 1 racing team, who loved his time at Epsom College so much that he wanted to share his experience with others. The new international school is being built on a 50-acre site at Bandar Enstek, just south of Kuala Lumpur, as part of the Kuala Lumpur Education City (KLEC) project. Seen as a major development in the field of education in Malaysia, it will open in September 2012 as a traditional, British-style boarding school.

Tony Fernandes, whose motto is “Believe the unbelievable, dream the impossible and don’t take no for an answer” is passionate about the new development and deeply committed to the ethos of his old school and what makes it distinct. Educated at Epsom from 1977 to l983, Tony is now a governor of the 150-yearold College and is involved in many of the decisions about the future of the school. With a daughter in the current 6th form, he is a regular visitor and speaks fondly of this time there.

“Epsom wasn’t just where I learned the textbook truths of maths, science and history, but so many more values that have shaped my beliefs. It taught me ambition, humility and leadership. It taught me that sport and creativity are crucial to a successful life.”

“But the most important lesson I learned was to value friends and that friends are forever. You can’t buy loyalty and friendship. You earn it,” he said. Founded in 1855 with Royal patronage granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, the College has a unique history. Dr John Propert, Epsom’s founder, originally built the school to educate the sons of doctors. The medical heritage continues to this day, with some 15 percent of leavers going on
to study medical-based degrees – probably the highest percentage of any school in the UK. With Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II as the current patron, Epsom College, which is situated on a beautiful 80-acre campus just 15 miles from central London, is now a thriving co-educational boarding and day school with over 720 pupils.

Academic excellence extends to all areas of the broad curriculum as the College’s 2009 Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) report confirms. “Outstanding achievements occur in a wide range of academic and extra-curricular areas,” the inspector’s report said. Within an almost unrivalled extra-curricular programme, Epsom produces many sportsmen and women who gain county, national and international representative honours, while music and the performing arts are highly regarded, with many performances each year ranging from lavish musicals and operas to modern drama and House soirees.

The extra-curricular programme offers something for everyone from competitive fencing and robotics to horticulture and fish keeping.

The College rightly prides itself on a high standard of pastoral care, which is confirmed by pupils and parents alike.
The close-knit House system is an integral part of College life and with the great majority of teaching staff living within the grounds, pupils become part of an integrated community.

It is these very qualities that make the “Epsom experience” unique and with a long history of educating Malaysian and other international students in England, the new venture in Kuala Lumpur is a natural extension designed to further the College’s international reputation and increase the number of pupils who can benefit from an Epsom College education.

The project has been made possible through the joint funding and support of KLEC and the College’s network of high profile Old Epsomians living and working in Malaysia.


Based on the home model, Epsom College in Malaysia will combine academic excellence with a first class British boarding experience, with up to 90 per cent of the senior school boarding. The emphasis will be on creating a family environment within a structured school routine, with a traditional British House system fostering a strong feeling of belonging and community. Teaching staff, Housemasters and Housemistresses, together with tutors and their families, will be resident on site. There will also be a Prefect system, modelled on the successful structure at Epsom College, within both the school and the individual Houses.

In addition to full boarding, weekly boarding, which was pioneered by Epsom College in the UK, will be an option. It is believed that this will be popular with parents who want a British boarding lifestyle for their children without having to travel long distances.

Epsom College in Malaysia will ultimately cater for some 900 boys and girls aged 11 to 18 in a predominantly boarding senior school, with an additional 150 pupils educated within a smaller preparatory wing. The impressive campus, being developed on a greenfield site, will comprise ultra-modern hi-tech, environmentally-friendly buildings, with specialised facilities for music, drama and sport, the latter including floodlit astroturf pitches, sports halls, a swimming pool and hard courts. There will also be dedicated science and art departments. Comfortable, friendly boarding Houses will offer separate accommodation in the Lower School for pupils in years 7 and 8 – two boys’ and two girls’ Houses. In the senior school for years 9 to 13, students will be accommodated in all-age Houses – five for boys and five for girls.

Pupils at Epsom College in Malaysia will follow the British National Curriculum, with all subjects taught in English. Students in the senior school will study IGCSEs and A levels and children in the junior school will follow the new English curriculum.

The new school will expand Epsom College’s international reputation as a provider of high quality education, maintaining links to the top medical schools in the UK and the Russell group universities, as well as local universities, colleges and medical schools.

It is envisaged that some 75 per cent of the academic staff will come from the UK, including senior staff with British boarding school experience.

Reflecting the UK model, sport will form an important part of daily life, with a high standard of coaching for all ages and abilities. In the longer term, there are plans for Epsom College in Malaysia to develop as a centre for excellence for particular sports, such as hockey, squash, badminton and cricket. As with the home school, Epsom College in Malaysia will offer an extensive range of extra curricular activities, including the International Duke
of Edinburgh’s (DoE) Award Scheme, a community service programme and expeditions via the DoE to foster teamwork and independence.

“The new school will be based on the highly successful British model, but with an international feel to it. It will provide educational facilities that, in terms of scope and quality, will equal those offered by Epsom College in the UK,” said Epsom College Headmaster Stephen Borthwick. “There will be real pollination between the two schools through pupil and staff exchanges, which will better equip future generations for an increasingly global social and business environment,” he said.

Pupils joining Epsom College in Malaysia in two years time will be following in the footsteps of many notable Epsom College alumni, including Mark Mardell, North America editor at the BBC, Sir John Scarlett, recently retired Director General of the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Sir Richard Thompson President of the
Royal College of Physicians (RCP), England rugby international and former Epsom College teacher Nigel Starmer-Smith and journalist and broadcaster Jeremy Vine.

For enquiries, please contact:
Angie Chee +606.794 0305
[email protected]



This article has been edited for
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