A UK exit from the European Union could cost private schools millions of pounds, boarding school leaders have warned.
The Boarding Schools’ Association told TES that a vote to leave the EU would be a threat to a market worth £100 million a year to the UK.
There are currently 5,000 students from EU countries studying at UK boarding schools. But the BSA claims that if Britain leaves the union such students would have to apply for visas, which could prompt many families to look elsewhere.
Robin Fletcher, chief executive of the BSA, said: “There is high demand from parents and students across the world for UK education and this is particularly attractive for families from EU countries, because they can come here without a visa.
“That will change completely, however, if Britain leaves the EU. Those same students will be regarded as ‘overseas’ by the Home Office and will have to have visas. This is complicated for both parents and schools and may tempt some families to look elsewhere for an English-language Western education, such as the US.”
The claims have been made amid discontent in the boarding school sector over the administrative burden of the Tier 4 visas that most non-EU students must gain in order to be educated in the UK.
The annual census from the Independent Schools Council, published today, shows that there are 27,633 non-British pupils whose parents live overseas in its schools.
The BSA’s stance on Brexit has been backed up by John Edward, chief spokesman for the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign in Scotland, who is also the director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools (SCIS).
Mr Edward, who stressed that he was commenting in his role as spokesman for Britain Stronger in Europe rather than as head of SCIS, said: “If the UK was perceived to be a more administratively bureaucratic place to come and study, that would undoubtedly impact on teacher and pupil recruitment.”
However, Tom Harris, speaking on behalf of the Vote Leave campaign, argued that one reason independent schools were successful was because they provided a service that foreign families wanted to buy, which would not change if the UK left the EU.