Independents seek Indian pupils

23rd December 2011 at 00:00
UK boarding schools hope to win over the emerging middle class

It has been one of the hardest markets to crack, and it lags way behind the likes of Hong Kong, China and Russia, but next month a group of independent school heads is travelling to India in an attempt to convince wealthy parents to send their children to private schools in the UK.

According to the latest Independent Schools Council survey, India is only just above Taiwan, Canada and Ireland in terms of the number of pupils who attend private schools in the UK. Nations outstripping it include many with economies that are not exploding in the same way, such as France, the US and Nigeria.

Now nine independents - including Headington School in Oxford, Moreton Hall in Shropshire and the Royal Wolverhampton School - will visit Mumbai and Delhi as part of an attempt to drum up business.

The plan has been hatched by UK Boarding Schools, a consortium of 25 schools formed nine years ago to target the mainland China market.

The man behind UK Boarding Schools, Michael Couch, admits the trip will be a difficult sell. "India is going to be tough," he said. "[It's about] getting UK boarding schools into the minds and hearts of the Indian populace."

Mr Couch explained that schools will fly into Mumbai on 20 January for three days of promotional events in the city, before heading to Delhi for a further three days.

But there is optimism. Caroline Jordan is head of Headington, a girls' day and boarding school that has pupils who come from 33 countries. She said the trip would be "an opportunity to develop links with the Indian subcontinent, which is an area from which we have received increasing interest over the past few years".

"We are currently oversubscribed, so are simply looking at further diversifying our international community, not increasing it in number," she added.

A recent report by management consultancy Parthenon said India was not as good a market for UK independents as south-east Asia, with just 8,000 pupils out of 290 million school-age children in the country paying pound;6,000 a year or more for their education.

And education specialist Mark Brooks, who recently completed a report on the state of the market in Nigeria for the British Council's education arm, said: "The problem is that the top independent schools in India are so outstanding and many were set up in colonial times by former public school masters."

But Moreton Hall head Jonathan Forster, who is also going on the trip, insisted that there are opportunities. "In a country of more than a billion people, there must be some who want to gain access to British boarding schools and British universities," he said.

"It's about getting in front of people. I think if schools came back with one or two students, they would be pleased with that outcome."

Mr Forster added that UK schools had previously been put off India because a lot of children in the country are already educated in English. "People have been less confident in the past because of this and the best schools are modelled on British schools," he said. "I think the feeling has been that we can't teach them much about education.

"But there is an emerging Indian middle class and there will be people who want to gain access to British schools because they see the value."

Parthenon said overseas emerging markets are worth around pound;175 million and are growing at 15 per cent a year.


A British Council report published last month on opportunities for the education market in Nigeria has said UK independents should target the country.

Written by education specialist Mark Brooks, the report said more than 23,000 pupils go to one of the 72 British-orientated independent schools in Nigeria because of poor local standards of education.

Mr Brooks said British values and quality teaching are "cherished" by Nigerians.

According to the Independent Schools Council, there are more than 800 Nigerian boarders at UK independents, but Mr Brooks said this is less than the true figure because a number of Nigerian parents hold British passports as well.

Origional headline: A passage to India for independents on the hunt

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