Overseas enrolments up at British boarding schools

07 May, 2015

The number of international students at UK independent secondary schools increased by almost 3,000 to 27,211 this year, according to latest annual census released by Independent Schools Council (ISC).

Nationality of non-British pupils at ISC schools. Source: ndependent Schools Council (ISC) 2015 Annual Census

The ISC census, completed by 1,267 member schools, shows that Mainland China has overtaken long-time top market Hong Kong to become the largest source country, with 5,683 students as of January this year – a 29.7 per cent increase compared with 2014 – representing 20.9 per cent of all international students with parents living outside the UK.

Hong Kong grew slightly to 4,785 students, while Russia increased by 10 per cent to a total of 2,795 students. Germany remained the largest EU market – and fourth overall – with 1,930 students, followed by Spain with 1,267 students.

Suzanne Rowse, Director of the British Boarding Schools Workshop (BBSW), welcomed the overall increase in non-British boarding students, but cautioned that the new entry data was not quite as positive.

“Whist the total number of pupils from a range of markets has increased, the number of pupils who are new to their schools this academic year has decreased in several key regions (France, Germany, Russia, Spain, the remainder of the EEA and non-EEA, Nigeria, the Middle East, Hong Kong and Korea), reflecting the impact of political instability in some countries, the devaluation of currencies and the strength of the pound,” said Rowse.

“Affordability was certainly a hot topic at the British Boarding Schools Workshop in March, Despite these challenges, the new markets have held pretty steady and the number of new joiners has still been positive.”

Thailand had been a notable growth market over the last year with 16.7 per cent increase in new pupils, reflecting positive agent reports from the country, Rowse added.

Overseas students are more numerous in the sixth form, with 56 per cent registered in Years 12 and 13, a slight increase compared with 54.4 per cent in the previous survey. Forty-two per cent of international students were in years 7-to-11, up from 34.4 per cent last year, leaving a reduced market share in years 6 and below.

A further indication of increased activity in international recruitment among ISC schools was the number of members registered as Tier 4 sponsors, which increased from 645 last year to 692 in the latest census.

The census also reveals there were an additional 16,821 non-British students with parents living in the UK at ISC schools as of January this year, an increase compared with 11,329 last year. However, ISC cautions that 257 schools did not submit data for this classification when it was introduced in 2014, making year-on-year comparisons difficult at this stage. 

There was an overall increase in student numbers including domestic students at ISC schools to 517,113 students – exceeding the pre-recession high and the highest level since records began in 1974, according to the ISC. Non-British students with parents outside the UK represented just over five per cent of the total student body.

Over the latest year an additional five overseas branch campuses of ISC schools have been opened, the report revealed, bringing the total to 44 campuses which collectively educate 24,710 students.

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