Brexit – an unexpected boost for British independent schools?
Stephen Spriggs, managing director of William Clarence Education, outlines why it could be
While Brexit uncertainty means all eyes are on Europe, families from outside the EU – specifically China, Hong Kong, the US, Canada and Australia – are taking advantage of our weak pound and wobbly economy, and grabbing the opportunity to purchase a world class British education at a cut price. Our shouty political pantomime is music to the ears of families who deal in yen and dollars.
Sterling’s buying power has depreciated significantly over the past 12 months, recently hitting a 34-year low. This means a British education, which has always been regarded as the gold standard globally, is becoming competitively priced for overseas parents and expats moving back to the UK, many of whom could not have afforded it even a year ago. When boarding school fees are upwards of 30K a year for five to seven years, and university tuition fees and living expenses around 20K annually for three to four years, a 15% reduction in price is far more than a few pennies saved.
Our shouty political pantomime is music to the ears of families who deal in yen and dollars
The property market is also floundering. For example, the 2019 wealth report from Knight Frank finds property prices in Chelsea have fallen 19% since 2014. Coupled with the pound losing value, this means that if an overseas family is thinking of moving to the UK or investing while their child is based here, now is a great time to commit.
It might not sound it, but this changing landscape could potentially be excellent news for independent schools and universities. A British education has always been in demand. International parents are attracted by the rigour and demands of our school system, with its academic excellence, extracurricular provisions and a reputation recognised and respected anywhere in the world.
For service providers in the UK working with international families and clients – who now find their money goes further on our shores – business is booming. Education is no different, and companies working to connect overseas pupils and students with UK-based schools and unis are finding more placements, which means fewer vacancies. This is welcomed by both parties, especially at a time when business with Europe is stalling with many people waiting – and waiting – to see what will happen with Brexit.
The impact is also being felt in higher education. Whereas the latest figures from UCAS show an increase of 1% from EU students, this is probably a last-ditch attempt to get feet under desks before fees increase and they are no longer entitled to student loans. However, the number of non-EU international applicants has risen by 8% this year. The number of Chinese applicants has grown by a whopping 30% and, for the first time ever, Chinese applications have overtaken those from Northern Ireland.
With the political situation changing hourly, it is impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone next year. But whether we Brexit or not, with or without a deal, economic instability looks certain to continue. And while the currency losing value is not a positive generally, it can only mean good news for parents outside of Europe looking to invest in our education system.
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