Educational agents report a 20% decline in new enrolments of foreign pupils at British boarding schools, new research shows, with international student mobility in Europe, China and the rest of Asia showcasing the sharpest contraction.

A survey of around 60 agents from across the world conducted by Bishopstrow College and Padworth College has revealed that, overall, new enrolments of overseas students are down by a fifth year-over-year.

Attrition varies by geography. The survey found that enrolments of Chinese and European students are down 23% and 24%, respectively, while the number of new-joiners from other Asian countries at UK boarding schools has fallen by 32%.

Enrolments of Middle Eastern students took the least severe hit, down just 5%, while the number of pupils from African countries and Russian-speaking jurisdictions tumbled 12%.

Across all markets, 60% of agent responses detailing reasons behind the fall in enrolments relate to entry deferment. Other top reasons for not enrolling cited families’ plans to place children instead in domestic schools, and to enrol them in online programmes.

One China-based agent said that “except for a small number, parents are very hesitant at the moment and most prefer to hold on” before enrolling their children in a British boarding school.

Another agent in Hong Kong said that “families are waiting to see if there are further spikes [in Covid-19 cases] in the UK”.

A Latvian agent said that “schools in other European countries that offer A-levels of the International Baccalaureate are being considered”.

The survey also gleaned insights from agents into the perception of online courses and instruction introduced in response to Covid-19, which in March forced the majority of schools across the UK to shut down.

An agent based in Nigeria flagged sensitivity around fees for online schooling, saying: “Fees need to be adjusted as the market is competitive.”

In response to questions about Bishopstrow’s online fees, a Chinese agent responded: “In comparison to the fee levels for attending the college physically, online is much too expensive.”

Across the board, agents flagged limited interest in online alternatives to boarding schooling among clients.

“An English preparation programme is difficult to promote as the market expects this to be a face-to-face experience,” commented one Indonesian agent.

Another in Germany said that “online courses are not really of interest to German clientele, who want the true experience of a stint abroad”, while a Latvian agent said: “Our students are really looking for face-to-face tuition.”

Date published: 17 September 2020

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