Independents eye-up India

28th November 2008 at 00:00
As UK families struggle to pay fees, private schools tout for pupils further afield

Independent schools have begun looking to India as a likely source of revenue now that the global financial crisis is hitting cash-strapped UK families.

In the week when the Government said it was borrowing billions to cut taxes to stave off a deep recession, one head of a major private school said he was flying out to the booming country next spring as part of a pupil recruitment drive.

Stephen Winkley, who was in China this week promoting his school, said he was having to deal with ever more UK families worried about how to pay their child's school fees: "I'm seeing one set of parents a week who are saying they're running out of cash."

Dr Winkley, the former head of Uppingham School in Rutland and now in charge at Pounds 25,000-a-year Rossall School in Lancashire, said: "The obvious source of revenue will be from overseas. India is the next new marketplace."

Earlier this month, his senior registrar completed a fact-finding mission in Kazakhstan.

Dr Winkley added: "The worry is the ripple could turn into a wave because schools here need a solid base of English pupils to give a base of what an English school is like."

The latest figures from the Independent Schools Council show that nearly 3,000 new pupils joined the UK's independent schools in 2008 from traditional feeder countries China and Hong Kong. But fewer than 100 new pupils came from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Some of the UK's best-known independents are now acknowledging that overseas activity will play an increasing role in the next few years as schools look at ways to keep revenue coming in.

Vicky Tuck, chair of the Girls' Schools Association and principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College, which charges boarders up to Pounds 28,500 a year, predicted that more parents in emerging markets such as India would send their children to be educated in England.

She added: "There are many, many people over there who want to learn English and receive a good education."

She said the economic downturn had not had much of an impact on finances so far because fees had been paid for in advance. But she warned: "Next September is going to be more telling. Only an ostrich would be blase about the recession."

Graham Able, master at Dulwich College, which has been pioneering a move to set up franchises in foreign countries, said: "There are obviously very good markets for good independent schools overseas. It's another way to increase revenue."

His college expects to set up a fourth franchise in Asia - in addition to the three it has in China - probably in Hong Kong or South Korea.

OVERSEAS RECRUITS

The number of overseas pupils (non-British, with parents living abroad) in UK private schools:

France: 207

Germany: 1,357

Russia: 479

Africa: 421

North America: 424

Middle East: 231

Hong Kong: 1,620

China: 1,281

India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka: 96

Source: Independent Schools Council census 2008.

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