Stephen Spriggs, managing director of William Clarence Education, examines the positive impact of Brexit on independent schools
Brexit is a conundrum no single person seems able to solve, nor indeed political parties in the UK and across Europe. There has been much said on the UK’s European Union departure over the past three years, some more realistic than others, but something that hasn’t been examined is its impact on independent schools, and the positives it could bring them.
While the everlasting uncertainty around Brexit means all eyes are on Parliament and Europe, families from outside the EU are looking on with keen interest. With a weak pound and unstable economy the environment has provided the opportunity for students to purchase a world-class British education at a cut price. Chinese, American, Canadian and Australian families may look down on the chaos incurred within the House of Commons’ political pantomime, but it is music to the ears for those dealing in Yen and Dollars.
Sterling’s buying power has depreciated significantly over the past 12 months, hitting a 34-year low in September. This results in a British education, regarded widely as the gold standard globally, becoming increasingly competitively priced for overseas parents and expats moving back to the UK. Many of these families wouldn’t have been able to afford the costs even a year ago. With boarding school fees priced upwards of £30k a year for up to seven years, and university tuition fees, including living fees, around £20k annually for up to four years, a 15 percent reduction in price saves far more than a few pennies.
Alongside the financial turmoil, the property market is also facing challenges. Knight Frank’s 2019 wealth report finds property prices in Chelsea, London have fallen 19 percent since 2014, this coupled with sterling losing value means for an overseas family thinking of moving to the UK or investing while their child is based here, this is a perfect time to commit.
It may sound like doom and gloom aplenty, but this changing landscape could potentially be positive for independent schools and universities. A traditional British education has always been in high demand from global families, attracted by the rigour and demands of the UK school system. Defined by its academic excellence, extracurricular provisions and a reputation recognised around the world, Brexit may be politically damaging but the education sector has developed its prestige over hundreds of years, it won’t disappear overnight.
Higher education is already seeing an impact too; latest figures from UCAS show an increase of just one percent from EU students, a last-ditch attempt to get places before fees increase and any unknown future changes to how things operate. Meanwhile the number of non-EU international applicants has grown by 30 percent and, for the first time ever, Chinese applications have overtaken those from Northern Ireland.
International students play an important role within our schools; they trust the British system to deliver results while injecting global culture in typically English surroundings. With European families possibly growing weary of the UK following the commotion around our exit from the union, non-EU students like those from China look ready to fill the spaces. For schools it doesn’t matter where the student is from, so long as they settle and study well, but for the families who are paying for the privilege of a top-rate education there is an expectation of success. Without access to the Schengen Zone’s free travel (however long it may last), additional hurdles must be passed including the need for visas and additional insurances.
It’s impossible to predict what is going to happen with Brexit, the political situation changes daily, but whether the departure goes ahead or not, with or without a deal, economic instability looks certain to continue. While currency losing value is no positive, it can only mean good news for parents outside Europe looking to get into our education system.