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More overseas students at independent schools abroad than in the UK

British independent schools now teach more students overseas than foreign students in Britain, data from the Independent Schools Council shows.

JESS School in Dubai, part of the Headmasters' & Headmistresses' Conference, an association of heads of top independent schools. Photo: ISC

Overseas pupils account for 5.2% of the total student population at ISC British independent schools

In its annual census, the council found that there are currently 31,773 pupils studying at ISC schools overseas, a 15% increase from 2016.

However, the number of overseas pupils at ISC schools in Britain sits at 27,281 this year, a slight decrease of 1.2% from 2016.

“The numbers have just been gradually growing year by year”

Overseas pupils account for 5.2% of the total student population at ISC British independent schools, according to the census, down marginally from 5.3% last year.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of ISC, said that it was “inevitable” at some point that there would be more foreign pupils taught at ISC schools overseas, than in the UK.

“More schools are being set up but also many of the existing schools are less than five years old, certainly less than 10 years old,” he told The PIE News. “And the numbers have just been gradually growing year by year.”

ISC member school campuses grew from 46 to 59 this year, with the majority located in the Middle East.

This particular region is home to 17 ISC school campuses, followed by China, where 15 of the schools are located.

“The Middle East is still growing and it’s a prosperous area – that market remains pretty buoyant,” said Lenon, adding the same applies to China.

“You’ve got a growing population who are very interested in international education and a gradual relaxation of the regulations regarding the accessibility of international schools to Chinese pupils, which has been the thing that’s held it back in China,” he commented.

The success of the first few British schools operating overseas coupled with overseas investments has contributed to the growing number of schools looking to set up campuses overseas, added Lenon.

Meanwhile, the money made by these franchise schools goes primarily towards offering bursaries to students in the UK, the census found.

“33% of ISC pupils are on a reduced fee and over 40% of those on means-tested bursaries pay less than half the fee,” says the report.

“[Independent schools] don’t make profit, they don’t seek to make profit,” said Lenon. “Their costs, particularly in boarding schools, are high and they don’t wish to become the preserve of the rich, therefore it is important for them to build up bursary funding.”

Among schools in the UK, the number of overseas students, categorised in the census as those whose parents are based overseas, fell to 27,281 this year from 27,633.

This decrease is partly due to the fact that it is becoming more difficult to obtain visas, said Lenon, as well as increased competition from other countries, namely Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

“The Middle East is still growing and it’s a prosperous area – that market remains pretty buoyant”

However, the Asian market remains a strong market for British independent schools in the UK, with mainland China remaining the top source country sending 6,662 students.

Hong Kong, the leading market until 2014, follows with 4,731 students.

“It’s only really in the last 20-25 years that China has developed historically [as a market], and of course developed an enormous middle class who can afford British boarding school fees,” said Lenon.

There are now 522,879 domestic and overseas pupils at ISC schools worldwide, the highest the number there has ever been.

ISC schools represent around 80% of all independent school pupils in the UK.

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