Unstoppable march of independents

25th April 2014 at 01:00
Their overseas campuses are predicted to grow `dramatically'

Leading British independent schools will soon be educating more foreign students in overseas franchises than they do on British soil, a major survey of private schools suggests.

The latest annual census from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) reveals that its schools now run 39 overseas campuses, up from 29 in 2013 and 20 in 2012.

These institutions educate a total of 22,514 pupils, but independent school leaders say this number will rise "dramatically" as all the year groups fill up, rapidly overtaking the 24,391 overseas students who are now educated in the UK.

Leading private schools have been opening campuses abroad since 1998, when Harrow School set up a branch in Bangkok, Thailand. Other schools followed suit, including Dulwich College, which now has a network of seven schools in Asia.

Wellington College has built a "replica" school mimicking its architecture in Tianjin, China, with another opening in Shanghai this August. Brighton College runs two campuses in the United Arab Emirates, while Epsom College is opening its first overseas school in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in September.

Independent school leaders have said that the boom is being fuelled by a desire to fund bursaries for cash-strapped UK parents and "help sustain the British market".

The recession prompted concern that pupil numbers would fall as middle and high earners tightened their belts. But the report says there have been "dramatically different experiences of the recession at schools in different parts of the country".

In London, there has been a 14 per cent rise in pupil numbers since 2007. But in the North of England, where a number of elite schools have become state-funded academies as a result of families being unable to afford fees, there has been a drop of around 12 per cent in the past seven years.

Overall, figures show that pupil numbers at ISC schools that took part in this year's and last year's surveys have dipped very marginally to 504,362.

Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC, said: "The rise in the numbers of pupils [in ISC school branches abroad] is going to be quite dramatic and the numbers of pupils in our franchise schools will rapidly overtake overseas pupils being educated here. It might slightly depress demand in the UK, but for most independent schools it is being used to pay for bursaries and attract a wider range of people to their UK schools."

Hilary Moriarty, national director of the Boarding Schools' Association, added: "The growth in ISC schools operating overseas campuses shows the schools' entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take a great education out to emerging markets and develop new income streams."

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