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L-R: Rhiannon Wilkinson and William Vanbergen

Wycombe Abbey expands into China

BE Education and Wycombe Abbey speak to IE Today about their new international schools venture

Posted by Stephanie Broad | February 01, 2016 | International

Boarding School Wycombe Abbey and the leading education company in China, BE Education, have announced the creation of Wycombe Abbey International Schools (WAIS) in China, providing for the first time a blending of the China and UK national curricula in a true UK independent boarding school environment. This represents a major shift from previous entrants as it focuses on the huge potential of the local market with its distinctive curriculum, which WAIS believes will have unique appeal in China and encourage even greater opportunities for the UK-China relationship in the future.

The initiative has been led by Headmistress Rhiannon Wilkinson, with the full support of the Governing Council and its Chairman Patrick Sherrington, and by BE Education’s Chief Executive, William Vanbergen. They jointly describe the outcome of the deal as “sharing the Wycombe DNA, its values and culture” with a number of schools in China and supporting Wycombe Abbey’s bursaries and development of other educational ventures.

The plan is to start by rebranding BE Education’s successful Oxford International College of Changzhou (near Shanghai) as Wycombe Abbey International School from September 2016. 

The existing Changzhou Campus

Rhiannon Wilkinson has 11 years’ experience in international education in Hong Kong and Brunei. She told us of their decision to set up in China: “We have been considering the potential for launching Wycombe Abbey International Schools over the last few years and have received numerous offers from different organisations.

“We chose China for its rising prominence on the global stage. China is becoming ever more influential and will soon of course be the world's largest economy.

“The Chinese are very keen on British education and we believe that our approach has something to offer them. We also have a small number of girls from Mainland China in the School and a longstanding relationship with Hong Kong.

“Finally, we have been teaching Chinese in the School for a number of years now and girls can now study Chinese GCSE and A-level as part of the mainstream curriculum.

“We set up a new post, Head of Global Opportunities, in September 2015. This person is now working on developing a global mindset and cultural understanding. All this fits with our desire to internationalise.”

Patrick Hoey, President of BE Education’s Schools Division, says there’s a high demand for British education in China. He tells us: “The China education system does a great job at building foundational skill sets, especially in math, but has become highly focused on test preparation for senior school and university entrance exams. This continuous test preparation limits student opportunities to develop practical knowledge and wider interests. Chinese parents are increasingly looking for holistic education opportunities and the British curriculum focus on creativity, problem solving and sport fills a gap in the market. 

“Wycombe Abbey International Schools (WAIS) combine the best of Chinese education and British education within an independent boarding school environment providing opportunities not available in traditional Chinese schools. This is attractive for Chinese parents wishing to put their children on a path to a successful, fulfilling life and employment in the global economy of the twenty-first century.”

“Wycombe Abbey’s reputation is phenomenally strong in China,” says William Vanbergen. “We know we have found the perfect partner to combine the best features of the Chinese and British education systems to ensure they appeal to this huge market.”

In addition to having two members of the Governing Council on the new five-strong WAIS Advisory Board, Wycombe Abbey will now start recruiting for an International Director who will be based in High Wycombe to run the initiative on its behalf and intend to have an appointment made this spring.

Rhiannon says the WAIS brand has the potential to grow in China: “We are delighted that we already have one school that will be branded as WAIS from September but we are also considering a number of other opportunities throughout Greater China.

“The new school will be an ‘all through’ school for the families in Changzhou and indeed for families across China whose children can board at the school. Such schools are important and they cater for a different demographic. We anticipate that some of our schools in the future will also cater for expatriate families as well as local families, and from my extensive experience in international education I know that expatriate families are often looking for ‘all through’ schools catering for all ages and both genders.” 

Explaining the advantage of rebranding their existing school, Vanbergen explains: “Setting up an operation can take years, we have the advantage of experience and a school that is already up and running. We understand what local Chinese parents want – the best of both worlds - but fundamentally that their children remain Chinese. We offer a combination of teaching styles that produce academic results but also, with the British IGCSE courses and A-levels, allow outstanding students in China to experience the British curriculum, learning style, and environment before they go abroad for university.”    

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