Azara Blog: Foreigners shunning British private schools

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Date published: 2005/05/10

The Financial Times says (subscription service):

An education at a pretigious British private school, once regarded as an essential preparation for the ruling elites of developing countries, has lost some of its lustre, according to figures released on Monday.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents 60 per cent of Britain's private schools, including famous names such as Harrow and Eton, said its annual census showed they were losing out to competition from other overseas education markets, including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Despite the high regard in which Britain's private schools are held around the world, and after several years of increases in foreign recruitment, the number of pupils in 2004 was 8,602 9.8 per cent lower than the previous year's census findings.

ISC cited a number of factors for the decrease including sterling's strength and the added financial burden of new visa charges, which started in August 2003 and have already damaged the recruitment of overseas students by British universities.

Jonathan Shephard, general secretary of ISC, said an increase of the existing £255 charge to £500 ($945, 738 Euros) this month would damage the wider UK economy. "Overseas students are not of primary importance to our sector but to UK plc generally. It is in our interests of the country as a whole to encourage students from overseas to join higher education courses. Therefore, we need to get them into the British curriculum as soon as possible."

The drop in numbers was also affected by cheaper alternatives to international education closer to home. Some of Britain's best-known public schools have been offering British-style education at local costs through franchise arrangements and purpose-built campuses abroad.

Harrow and Dulwich, for example, operate schools in both China and Thailand. Thailand saw a 26 per cent drop in the number of students coming to Britain.

China, the second biggest market for British education, also fell 8 per cent to 1,020 students in 2004. The ISC said it was aware of "negative propaganda" by the Chinese government designed to dissuade students from leaving the country.

There is less demand among continental Europeans for British education although the ISC said it was delighted by a 9.5 per cent growth in students from France. It put this down to curriculum reforms and the encouragement of European section schools that specialise in teaching English.

Well it's obviously a complex set of factors at work, but education is one of the most important British exports, and the crazy visa charges are dissuading university applicants as well. Ultimately you have to blame the Blair government.

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