The latest Independent School Council (ISC) Census in 2017 found for the first time that the number of international pupils attending international campuses of UK independent schools exceeds the number of non-British pupils attending independent schools in the UK. Fifty-nine such campuses educate a total of 31,773 pupils, an increase from 46 campuses in 2016 with 27,619 pupils. This compares to 27,281 pupils with parents living overseas who are educated in ISC schools in the UK this time. In total, international pupils make up 5.2% of pupils at ISC schools.
These overseas satellites have been set up mainly in lucrative markets such as China, the Gulf states, Malaysia and Singapore where there seems to be a growing appetite for UK education. Recent British Council research looking at factors contributing to the rapid expansion of UK private schools overseas, cites increased government scrutiny of international students coming to the UK as well as the need for these schools to find new revenue streams as the sector becomes increasing unaffordable for British parents as key reasons for the experience.
As UK universities face increasingly tough competition for international students as well as greater financial uncertainties, especially in the wake of Brexit, our own research demonstrates that the UK school system is providing an important pathway into the HE sector for these internationally mobile students.
Our annual survey among new international undergraduate students entering UK universities in 2016/17 found that a third came from school directly, of whom one in seven were already in the UK. Further, of those undergraduates who come from the school system outside the UK, 12% were educated in a British international school. According to COBIS (Council of British International Schools), half of its pupils go onto UK universities.
This underlines the importance of understanding and embracing this key pathway into UK higher education. It suggests that UK HEIs should ensure that international recruitment strategies take into account both the international profile of children already in the UK school system and those within UK overseas schools as well. It is important to maintain strong links with international officers of leading UK independent and British International schools.
Given the ambitious target set by the British government to increase education exports, the contribution of these international students in the UK school system cannot be underestimated. The continued attraction of a UK education depends on maintaining the current strong reputation for a high quality education.
A survey we conducted last year for the UK Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA),the largest association of boarding schools in the world, found that two-thirds of parents of international pupils send their children to boarding schools in the UK because of the high quality of education and nearly a quarter do so in order to improve their child’s access to UK higher education. It is expected that UK independent schools will continue to expand in key overseas regions and should be in a strong position to take advantage of growing populations interested in an international education and the enduring appeal of a British education.
At the same time, UK and other Western universities are also increasingly expanding by setting up international branch campuses, a recent example being the University of Birmingham’s plans to open a satellite in Dubai. These offer international students a degree from a prestigious university without the expense or visa barriers of studying abroad. Undoubtedly, pupils from British international schools will be key targets for these institutions.