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Chinese enrolments soar at UK independent schools

The number of K-12 students coming to Britain from mainland China has soared in the last year, with the Independent Schools Council census showing 2,893 new enrolments in 2014/15 – 800 more than last year. This is the first time China has overtaken Hong Kong as the top source country for ISC’s members, some 1,200 independent K-12 schools across Britain.

Diagram from the ISC census 2015 mapping where overseas pupils at ISC schools come from.

“Hong Kong has been sending pupils to Britain, for many years, so the market penetration is very high; whereas in China, this is just the beginning”

Overall, the number of non-British pupils with parents living overseas rose from 24,391 to 27,211 between 2014 and 2015, including 12,994 new enrolments – nearly 1,500 more than the previous year.

“In China, the demand for British education will only keep growing”

There are now 5,683 Chinese overseas students at ISC schools (21% of overseas students), compared to 4,785 from Hong Kong.

“This was bound to happen; what’s surprising is that it hasn’t happened sooner,” Alexander Nikitich, founder of Carfax Education, which places foreign pupils in elite UK schools and universities, told The PIE News.

The very slight decline in new enrolments from Hong Kong – to 4,785 – can be attributed to the dwindling number of school-aged children in the city, as well as the fact that fewer civil servants can now claim an overseas education allowance for their children, according to the census.

“Hong Kong has been sending pupils to Britain for many, many years, and for many years it has been the largest market for British boarding schools, so the market penetration is very high; whereas in China, this is just the beginning,” Nikitich explained.

He predicted that these trends will continue, as China’s economy booms and the number of school-aged pupils in Hong Kong dwindles.

“In Hong Kong, pretty much everyone who can afford to send their children to be educated in Britain is doing so, but in China it is still a new thing, and the demand for British education will only keep growing,” he added.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 10.27.13Accounting for the third largest source of new pupils, Russian enrollments declined slightly – from 1,224 to 1,168 – but overall numbers have not been affected. In fact, Russian students are up slightly on last year and still account for more than 10% of total non-British students with parents overseas.

The impact of financial pressures caused by the rouble crash and the political landscape may be felt more strongly next year, Nikitich suggested.

“The admissions cycle for these pupils would have closed by the summer of 2014, when the Russian economy was doing very well,” he explained.

The census also highlighted the growth of British schools provision overseas.

There were 24,710 students studying at 44 ISC school branch campuses around the world in January 2015, up from 39 branches and 22,514 pupils last year.

“That’s an interesting trend, because what it shows is that the demand for British education is much greater than the capacity of all British independent schools put together,” Nikitich commented.

“The demand for British education is much greater than the capacity of all British independent schools put together”

The Middle East is the most popular location, with 13 campuses and 9,370 enrolments, followed by mainland China, with 12 schools and a total of 6,162 students.

ISC represents only a small proportion of school branch campuses, with estimates saying there are around 3,000 British schools overseas.

“The education offered at British independent schools is regarded by the OECD as among the best in the world, so it is no surprise that an ever-growing number of British independent schools are operating overseas campuses,” commented Barnaby Lenon, ISC chairman.

He noted that overseas campuses have “the convenience to families of being able to access that in their home country” as well as providing access to high quality education and extra-curricular activities.

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