School Finance 607: SAS and Singapore's International School Scene

In the last two decades, educational options for foreign students in Singapore have expanded significantly. SAS, one of Singapore's original international schools and still one of few non-profit private schools here, continues to be among the most respected institutions for expatriate students. However, the changing educational landscape has implications for us.

Singapore's foreign system schools follow non-Singaporean curricula and exist primarily for expatriate students. Singaporeans must obtain special permission to attend private schools, so citizens comprise only a small percentage of foreign system school students. In the 2000s, a dramatic increase in the island's expatriate population led to a shortage in foreign system schools places. In response, the government encouraged the establishment of new foreign system schools and the expansion of existing ones. The number of international schools rose from 19 to 30, with overall student capacity increasing rapidly. The government also created what is now known as the Committee for Private Education to oversee the sector.

Even in the last two years, more international schools have developed plans to expand, as seen in the chart below. The government is encouraging foreign system schools to move to less urban locations, releasing high-value land parcels for redevelopment and giving schools room to grow. It has held four request-for-interest (RFI) exercises since 2008, giving schools or parent companies opportunities to bid on sites in areas like Punggol, Sembawang, and Pasir Ris. Such parcels are usually offered on thirty-year leases, significantly shorter than previous decades' lease agreements. They are also smaller than previous offerings, as the government now emphasizes higher-density building plans for international schools.

Expanding international schools: recent developments*


Location(s) and plans

Current student enrollment and capacity

Increased capacity by expected date

Australian International School

Building new early years campus adjacent to Lorang Chuang campus

2,600, = capacity

3,620 in 2017


Will move high school to Bukit Tinggi campus (current GESS site)

682, capacity 1,000 at current Orchard campus

Estimated capacity 900 at Bukit Tinggi campus in 2018

Dulwich College

Bukit Batok campus opened in 2014, expansion recently completed

1,500, capacity 2,500


Yishun campus opened 2014, expansion ongoing

700, capacity 1,600

3,000 in 2019-20

German European School Singapore (GESS)

Moving from two current sites to unified campus at Dairy Farm

1,500, capacity 1,700

2,000 in 2018-19

Lycée Français Singapour

Ang Mo Kio campus expanding primary division on adjacent site

2,800, capacity 4,000

Phase 3 of development will add 800, completion date not set

Middleton International School

Broderick Road, Thompson Lane

Under 1,000 in 2017

Overseas Family School

Moved from Orchard area to new campus in Pasir Ris in 2015

2,800, capacity 4,800

Sir Manasseh Meyer International School

Moved from Tanglin area to Sembawang in May 2016

170, capacity 500

Stamford American International School

Upper Serangoon campus opened 2009, expansion completed in 2015.

3,300, capacity 3,500

*Based on best available current information

Currently, there are over 6,000 extra school spaces already available at premium foreign system schools, with several thousand more expected to become available within the next two years. Even as international school capacity increases, it is unclear whether this growth is justified by expatriates' numbers in Singapore. Foreign professionals and managers, those likely to seek foreign system school spots for their children, hold employment passes. Since 2011, the rate of increase for this pass category has slowed considerably. This may be due to the drop in oil prices and corresponding slowdown in various sectors of the economy; it may also reflect a more cautious government approach toward awarding employment passes.

On the other hand, foreign students are finding it much harder to secure local school places. For some foreign parents, local schools are an affordable option, despite fees for non-citizens having risen substantially in recent years. However, even as public schools' enrollments fall due to low birth rates, experts estimate that only one in three non-citizen applicants are given spots. The Ministry of Education points out that Singaporeans' needs must be the first priority and local schools may not be appropriate for foreign students.

So how does SAS consider this situation? Our best approach is to maintain our focus on providing an exceptional academic experience that ensures that each student feels nurtured, encouraged, challenged, and valued. The implementation of our R&D recommendations is paying dividends in this area, with our Reggio Emilia-inspired early learning center and increased project-based learning proving popular with students and parents. Our American-based curriculum and extensive AP program attract students planning to attend US universities, as well as those in other countries. Obviously, hiring and retaining excellent teachers is crucial to all these priorities. On the financial side, keeping our fees competitive with those of similar schools is also essential, and ensuring that we are spending tuition dollars on our identified priorities.

Our campus and ethos also set us apart from many of Singapore's other foreign system schools. With our sports fields, pools, playgrounds, rainforest, eco-garden, and low-rise feel, our spacious green campus stands as a model for world leading education. We often hear during admissions tours that our campus stands out for these reasons. We also hear that parents appreciate our sense of community, as well as our nonprofit status, which ensures that any profits in a given year are reinvested into the school, rather than benefitting an owner or company.

SAS is rich in our history, mission, and culture, and we like to highlight the balance between our American roots and our international community. We welcome all applicants to SAS and ensure flexibility in our admissions priorities. We are proud to say that SAS is a premier school and is strongly positioned to continue as a world leader. As always, we welcome your comments, questions, and suggestions for future articles; please send them to We look forward to hearing from you.