This week, Suzanne Rowse, Director of British Boarding Schools Workshops (BBSW), provides analysis of the recently released Independent Schools Council (ISC) 2015 Census data on international students

Analysis of the Independent Schools Council (ISC) 2015 Census

The boarding school sector always anticipates the publication of the Independent School Council’s annual census. The data enables each boarding school to see how their school is performing compared with the rest of the sector and to see if trends they have experienced in markets is reflected across the country.

The good news is that overall the number of non-British boarders has increased, which is testament to the world-class education that British boarding schools offer.

There are now 27,211 non-British pupils whose parents live overseas at the 1,267 member schools. Using comparative data from the 1,234 schools which were members in 2014 and 2015, this represents an increase of 3.6 per cent. There are 70,642 boarding pupils at ISC schools, making up 14 per cent of total pupil numbers. At those schools completing census returns in both 2014 and 2015, the number of boarding pupils rose by 1.0 per cent.

Looking a bit closer, it is quite a mixed bag of data. Whilst the total number of pupils from a range of markets has increased, the number of pupils who were new to their schools this academic year has decreased in several key regions (France, Germany, Russia, Spain, the remainder of Europe EEA and non-EEA, Nigeria, Middle East, Hong Kong and South Korea), reflecting the impact of political instability in some countries, the devaluation of currencies and the strength of the pound. Affordability was certainly a hot topic at the British Boarding Schools Workshop in March. Despite these challenges the markets have held pretty steady and the number of new joiners has still been positive with 11,478 new joiners, only down by 22 pupils compared with last year.

Not surprisingly, China has taken over Hong Kong as the largest market for the total number of pupils (5,142 and up 17.5 per cent) and the number of new pupils (2,506 and up 20.2 per cent). Hong Kong is down in terms of the number of new pupils (1,574 and -6.6 per cent) and by the total number of pupils (4,655 and -1.0 per cent). According to the British Council, the recent decline in pupils from Hong Kong is mainly attributable to a decline in the number of school age children and the fact that fewer civil servants can now claim an overseas education allowance for their children.

Thailand has remained buoyant and this does not surprise me as I reported to schools last summer that agents were positive about market growth there, as parents had started to plan better than in the past. The total number of pupils from Thailand is 679, up 16.3 per cent and the number of new pupils is 279, up 16.7 per cent.

The ISC census does not collect data on every single country. Frustratingly, some key areas are grouped together such as remainder of Europe EEA and Remainder of Europe non-EEA. This means we can’t see how Ukraine, for example, has performed. Ukraine is in the Remainder of Europe non-EEA group and I consider it to be the largest market in this group. This area was down by 4.4 per cent in terms of new non-British joiners.

Other areas of growth are Central Asia with 177 new boarders and up 22.1 per cent. The key player in this category is Kazakhstan.  The Remainder of the Far East category has also shown growth with 339 new boarders and up 14.9 per cent (up 44 pupils).  This category includes Singapore, Macau and Brunei but based on agent activity I would expect the growth to be coming from Vietnam.

Having launched Connected, our new web community for British boarding schools and agents, we now collect from each school a complete breakdown of the number of their boarders by nationality. We have 150 school members and membership is growing each week so we have a solid basis for collecting the data.

My initial analysis of the information has shown that we will have some very powerful data to share with members in the coming months. For example, the ISC data only shows data for Nigeria and also the rest of Africa, which is up by 15 per cent in terms of new pupils this year. I can now look at our data to see exactly which countries in Africa pupils are coming from and use this to help schools develop their international strategy.

The next British Boarding Schools Workshops will be on: 5-7 November 2015 and 3-5 March 2016, both at Wokefield Park in Reading, UK.

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