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More Chinese students summer at UK schools

By WANG MINGJIE | China Daily | Updated: 2017-08-14 07:00

Many Chinese families are considering UK schools or universities as an option for their child's education and the summer programs offer them an introduction to the country, its people and culture-and education system.

Pundits said it is in some ways a try-before-you-buy experience, although summer courses and summer schools are not the same as regular school.

"Chinese parents, in particular, are very detail focused and require maximum information about the program before they make a decision. Price is not necessarily the key deciding factor, but location, safety, nationality mix and the responsiveness of our staff to answer queries are of vital importance," said Greg Patton, director of sales and marketing at Bell English, which has been running young learner camps since 1986.

William Vanbergen, the founder of Shanghai-based BE Education, an organization that helps Chinese students gain entry to elite UK schools, said most parents ultimately have in mind some type of study abroad for their children.

"Summer courses help prepare for study abroad by providing a 'British school life' experience, boosting English levels dramatically, and allowing students to become more culturally aware," said Vanbergen, who found that many students return from summer courses with a stronger motivation to study English and a greater appreciation for overseas teaching methods.

For many students, Vanbergen said, a residential summer course is the first time students really are allowed to exercise their independence and are asked to be self-reliant, which are two essential skills to successfully study abroad.

According to the Independent School Council, a nonprofit organization representing more than 1,200 schools, the number of Chinese students this year who have parents living overseas increased by nearly 115 percent compared with five years ago, when there were 3,708.

China remains the top source of overseas pupils in the UK with 7,990 Chinese students in British schools. Of those, 1,328 Chinese students have parents living in Britain while they study, according to the 2017 ISC census report.

The UK Higher Education Statistics Agency reports that in 2015-16, the number of students from China far exceeded any other nationality, at 91,215, making up 32 percent of the non-EU students in the UK.

Summer courses offered at British boarding schools are particularly appealing to Chinese parents due to its rich history and high profile, said Vanbergen, who has been working with top British schools on summer camps for over a decade.

The Eton College summer course was originally designed for only 40 boys ages 13 to 17 years old and has been expanded to 160 places for boys and girls. BE Education has since designed a course at Charterhouse for young learners (ages 8 to 12) who are keen to experience boarding life and learning at a top school.

Vanbergen said that the company now sends over 300 Chinese students on summer and winter camps each year around the globe. The average price for the UK courses, is about 64,000 yuan ($9,520) for three weeks and 59,800 for 2 weeks, higher than a regular study tour, he said.

Xiao Juan, who sent her son, Peng Yuantian, to the Charterhouse summer program, said the experience helped him learn how to manage himself, his studies and his daily life.

"Through the experience, my son was aware that not everyone would like or tolerate him and there might be some people he disliked. He learned to be more polite and patient with others," Xiao said.

Peng, 12, said he was happy to have such an experience without his parents, although he missed them and cried in the early days of the trip.

"I picked up the feeling of English learning and felt the English writing was not so difficult as I imagined. And I was happy that I could have a role in a drama show and proud that I could get a prize," Peng said.

Safety is the top concern for parents who send their children overseas.

Last month, Wang Bin, 18, was found dead in Washington state after he went missing from a US youth summer camp.

Wang, believed to be a high school student in China, was attending a Christian summer camp as part of a longer US trip.

Tim Fish, director of Earlscliffe, an independent British college that provides summer programs to international boys and girls age 8 to 17, said students' safety is the top priority.

"We have all our trips and activities supervised. Students do not leave the campus unaccompanied, and risk assessments are completed for all activities, events and trips," Fish said.

Susan Hamlyn, director of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service, said she expects the trend will continue to grow in the UK as English boarding schools offer something unique.

"There are now very few boarding schools which are not used by language schools in the holidays, but the danger will be that there are more Chinese children wanting to come than there are places for them, so parents need to be sure that they are choosing a reputable school," Hamlyn said.

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