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Meet Nick Alchin, Head of UWCSEA East Campus, Singapore

Nick Alchin, Head of UWCSEA East Campus, is a regular contributor to educational discussions and thought leadership through his blog Education, Schools and Culture (which we thoroughly enjoy reading) so we were delighted to have the opportunity to meet with him and hear more about his role within the school.


Can you tell us about who or what inspired you into education?

I wasn’t actually ever planning to become a teacher and so on leaving university I first trained as an actuary as I was good at numbers. Then once I had started working, in what I now see as a seminal moment, I won a competition for a holiday to Ecuador. I loved travelling and was really excited to take the trip but my company at the time wouldn’t let me go. I was frustrated and disillusioned and so I resigned! It was then that I thought back to what I had done as a teenager, when I spent five summers in the US working in a summer camp for special needs children, and realised that this was what I enjoyed the most. So, I went back to university, learnt to teach and here I am.

What drew you to UWCSEA?

Back in 1996 I saw a newspaper advert to work at the school (these were the days before email and the like!). I sent my application in and before I knew it, I was on a plane. I didn’t really have any idea what UWC was, and I can honestly say that I was so lucky that it all worked out. I’d love to say that there was a plan but really it was just chance.

What is so different here to any other school I’ve worked in are the staff. At UWCSEA they are all here because they really believe in the school and its ethos, and that is amazing. When you are young in your career, you sit back and absorb that culture of those around you, so it was a great place to start. I would advise people now thinking of going into teaching to choose your school carefully. I was lucky in that sense to have landed at Dover at that earlier point in my career, and it's why I chose to return when the opportunity came up to help open the East Campus High School.

You became Head of Campus at a difficult time during Covid restrictions, how have you presented yourself to the school community?

When I was High School Principal, I really believed in being in front of the parents and seeing them when they came in, but it is also important that parents get to know their children’s teachers and Heads of Grade. These are the people who know your children, who are close to their everyday experience, and who you as a parent should be connecting with. When I stepped up to become Head of Campus, I became one step further removed again. For the Head of Campus to make a difference, it’s about projecting the coherence and thought of the organisation, rather than showing parents who Nick Alchin the man is. It’s more about engaging with parents as a thought leader and looking at how we position the school as a part of the society that we are trying to change, and then how we bring parents along with this thinking.

My blog, Education, Schools and Culture, also helps with this though it’s not always about being deadly serious, I like to have a bit of fun with it too.

What aspect of the school would you like to have an impact on in your time as Head of Campus?

Again, this isn’t about me but about, what does our mission say and how do we align it with the tides that may be blowing us off course? It’s about making sure that our school is delivering on its promise to produce students who will leave the world a better place than they found it, and who will move us towards peace and sustainability. What I must do is create the environment where the debate and thinking is good enough that we can trust that everybody will come to their own understanding and will all be headed in the same direction.

So, it’s not about me, it’s what we do as an organisation. That’s the baton I took on from my predecessors and when I go, I’ll pass it on. It’s very much a collaboration.

What do you think makes the difference between a good school and a great school?

A UWCSEA education is based around a mission that is genuinely integrated into the lifeblood of the school. It’s not something that just happens on Founder's Day. It’s not something you talk about at graduation. It’s something you experience in your biology class, your maths class, on your service trips. For students there is no code-switching, there is no tension between what school says is important and what students know is important. This is what a great school does: it allows children to find out who they are and to be successful in the context of the framing of a mission which is bigger than themselves.

I joined some of our students on a service trip a few years back and in the camp there was written this phrase; ‘The meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you know you will never sit.’ That sums a UWCSEA education up, most of the time we don’t really know what our students will go on to beyond school, but we have a fundamental belief that the education we offer them will help them to do something better. The difference between a good school and a great school is that the flowers and the trees will create shade in the future somewhere, somehow.

If you hadn’t been an educator, what would you have liked to be doing?

That’s easy, either an astronaut or more realistically perhaps a mathematician. There is a kind of joy in working in your own little world, this austere clarity of your own abstract world that appeals to me. Then again, being an astronaut would be pretty cool!


UWC South East Asia (UWCSEA) in Singapore offers a holistic, values-based education that supports all students to develop as empowered individuals who understand their role as contributing members of their community and as a global citizen. A K-12 international school with two campuses, UWCSEA is a member of the global UWC movement. All students are immersed in the five elements of a bespoke learning programme across academics, activities, outdoor education, personal and social education and service that has been developed around the UWC mission to use education as a force to create peace and a sustainable future.

The College runs an annual application cycle, opening applications one year in advance only eg. applications for entry in August 2023 open 1 September 2022. Learn more about our admissions here.

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