Rise in enrolments at UK boarding schools

09, December, 2014

The number of international enrolments at independent boarding schools in the UK grew by five per cent annually from 2009-to-2013, according to research compiled by The Parthenon Group, and parents also reported a 100 per cent satisfaction rate.

Panellists taking questions from the delegation of agents at the CEG Directors' Briefing on the future of boarding school in the changing global economy in London, UK.

The group surveyed 100 education agents and 75 parents in key source countries, as well as staff 125 schools in the USA, UK and Canada, and found that the rising wealth of developing source countries, a better quality of education, the potential for the improvement of English language abilities and increased supply and marketing are key factors driving growth.

Matthew Robb, Managing Director of The Parthenon Group, presented the findings to delegates at the Cambridge Education Group (CEG) Directors’ Briefing on the future of boarding school in the global changing economy held in London, UK, last week. He pointed out that growth is coming from less elite students who require more agent guidance and greater English language and pastoral support.

While 60 per cent of students prefer traditional schools in the UK over ones with an international focus, the latter segment is a growing one, according to Robb. It is more agent driven, and parents are generally less knowledgeable about their options in this area. Although, “This is the growing segment of the market,” he said, “simply because a number of families in source countries [want to send their children to the UK]… but they don’t necessarily have the cultural capital and language ability [for traditional schools] and are therefore looking for an offer that works better for them.”

Another interesting trend is that students are coming to the UK at an earlier age, with agents reporting that over the past two-to-three years, there has been a 23 per cent increase in students enrolling at the age of 13 and a 24 per cent increase 14-year-olds. “If you come a little bit earlier then hopefully you can start your GCSE programme, develop your English, acclimatise to English culture and start to find out a little bit more about what the opportunities are at A-Level,” said Robb. “Parents are much more intentional about when they send their children to the UK. Not just intentional about when they do it but how they do it. It is much less of a reactive purchase and more of a planned purchase.”

Over the five-year period, there has been strong growth in enrolments from countries such as Russia (19 per cent), Nigeria (13 per cent), Spain (12 per cent) and Mainland China (nine per cent), according to the report. While Robb explained that the Russian market in particular might struggle over the next few years due to new problems with the economy, he said that UK schools have not reached the end of the growth period from Mainland China. Robb commented, “Historically the wealth of developing markets has been the most important driver of all, but in future that will slow down a little bit in key source countries.”

Meanwhile, UK agents reported that ELT (82 per cent), the high quality of education (78 per cent) and boarding schools (76 per cent) and enhanced global perspectives (74 per cent) are common reasons that parents send their children to a UK boarding school. Potential for permanent residence (17 per cent) and the cost of living (18 per cent), however, are viewed as the least important factors. “Most people sending their children to the UK have internalised the absence of post-study work visas,” Robb commented. “If you looked at this three, four or five years ago when immigration was more liberal you will probably have seen a higher proportion of people favouring that.”

Across the board, parents care the most about progression rates to top universities in destination countries (71 per cent) and academic results (67 per cent). However, conversations with agents and parents reveal that parents have difficulty in accurately ascertaining the academic quality of schools. Softer integration issues such as poor international food options, not enough boarding students on campus during the weekend and a lack of integration and ELT support are the cause of most complaints.


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