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UK sees decline in number of Chinese pupils

By WANG MINGJIE in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-08-11 09:06

Students board the flight to Manchester. MO XIAOJIAN/FOR CHINA DAILY

Concerns over lingering pandemic prevent parents from sending their children overseas

The number of pupils from the Chinese mainland enrolled in British private schools has fallen sharply this academic year, despite the United Kingdom remaining one of the favorite overseas study destinations for the students.

A total of 8,588 pupils from the mainland were registered in British independent schools in 2021.Of those, 6,033 have parents living outside the UK, according to the Independent School Council, a nonprofit organization representing more than 1,300 independent schools in the UK and overseas.

The number of Chinese mainland enrollments represented a 21 percent year-on-year drop from 10,864 pupils. The drop in the number of mainland students with parents living outside the UK was even more noticeable, at 27.23 percent.

In 2021, pupils from the Chinese mainland accounted for 15.78 percent of non-British pupils compared with 18.52 percent the previous years.

Susan Fang, director of educational consultancy Academic Powerhouse, said: "The pandemic is undoubtedly the No 1 reason for mainlanders to stop sending their children under age 18 to the UK, either as a returnee or a newbie in boarding schools."

Children under the age of 15 make up a big chunk of the enrollments at independent schools, she said. As they are a few years off sitting their final exams, "the safety and security aspects outweigh the desire to have them perform well in national exams", Fang said.

Many of the Chinese pupils have no siblings, and their grandparents are the most influential decision-makers in the family. Fears over the lingering COVID-19 pandemic may have influenced families' decisions not to send their children abroad, she said.

"Grandparents are even more conservative and protective (than parents)," Fang said. "It will take many months, and possibly the complete cessation of infections … before the older generation can entertain the idea of sending their grandchildren abroad to boarding schools."

Steve Spriggs, managing director at William Clarence Education, an education placement, tuition and consultancy service based in London, said: "Not being able to see a school is a major deterrent for a family about to send their child thousands of miles away, so many will have deferred the move to a later point.

"Also, the standard and number of local international schools have seen huge growth. They will be competing with UK schools for the same head count, which is bound to have an effect."

According to a report by the Beijing-based consultancy Venture Education, 27 British independent school groups with 57 campuses are operating in China. A further 43 private schools are planned to open in the next few years.

While COVID-19 and travel restrictions have been the main contributors to the fall in international enrollments at private schools in the United Kingdom, increasing domestic demand has also played a role.

"As a result of the excellent online teaching that independent UK schools delivered during the lockdown, local parents are turning increasingly to the independent sector from the state sector and that effect has made up for the decrease in Chinese pupils," said Caroline Nixon, international director of the Boarding Schools' Association in the UK.

Fang, from Academic Powerhouse, said that the blow to independent schools could be "softened" by the increased demand from British parents. However, she pointed out most of the parents are looking for day places at independent schools, so "it won't be easy to make up for the shortfall in fees from the absent Chinese cohort".

Spriggs, from William Clarence Education, said the number of pupils from the Chinese mainland is likely to remain steady for a few years until COVID-19 is brought under control. "I don't expect a huge increase next year-nor another huge decline, but probably a gradual return to normal," he said.

Nixon said: "Indications from the market suggest that confidence is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, or possibly even increase.

"We know from our members that applications from China for next year have increased so we don't expect it to (decline remarkably again). As confidence in the UK returns as a result of vaccination success, and as global travel generally returns to normal, we expect the decline to reverse."

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