While schools have been spared the most severe funding cuts since the coalition came to power in 2010, the post-16 sector has borne the brunt of Chancellor George Osborne’s austerity measures.
The independent sector, too, has suffered as a result of wider economic problems, reporting a drop in student numbers this year.
But a report published today by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills suggests that, aside from universities, these could well be the two most valuable education sectors in the UK economy. New figures in the document, International Education Strategy: Global Growth and Prosperity reveal just how lucrative colleges and private schools are.
The report estimates that foreign students attending independent schools were worth £620 million to the economy in 2011, through their fees and living expenses. Further education colleges raked in even more the UK from overseas students - more than £1.1 billion in total, including £320 million in tuition fees and £810 million through students’ living costs.
And this is only part of the story: the country received an additional £1 billion through the schools and campuses that its institutions run abroad. British schools in other countries were worth a whopping £960 million, with £30 million more coming from colleges’ overseas sites. With substantially more colleges looking to expand their overseas provision to maximise their income in the coming years - not least through the Association of Colleges in India initiative and recently approved plans for an all-female college in Saudi Arabia - this figure is expected to increase dramatically.
While most of the focus at the report launch at Pearson headquarters in London this morning was on the ambitions for the university sector to attract 90,000 extra foreign university students by 2018, the school and college sectors are confident they, too, could be on to a winner.
Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel said: “China is also looking to learn from England’s apprenticeships and Colombia and Brazil - to name but two - aren’t far behind them…This demonstrates how further education colleges are able to bring their vocational expertise to the fore and train teaching staff in these countries.”
Christopher Ray, chairman of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, was equally positive - not surprisingly, given that he will soon be leaving the Manchester Grammar School to become principal of the British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi.
“The values of an outstanding liberal education of the kind developed in British independent schools has worldwide appeal and it is good to see this contribution being recognised in government,” he said. “It is a cultural as well as an economic benefit for the nation and one which will surely grow in the coming years.”