Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

An Elite Education - with All the Comforts of Home

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

An Elite Education - with All the Comforts of Home

Article excerpt

Thrifty international parents pick 'homestays' over boarding

A British boarding school education has become a "must-have" for the children of growing numbers of the international elite living everywhere from Russia and Germany to Hong Kong.

But as oligarchs and tycoons thumb through brochures of luxurious boarding houses, a new breed of canny parent is emerging, one who is seeking a "discount option". These parents are shunning boarding schools in favour of lodging their children in private homes and sending them to day schools.

Homestay packages - including guardianship, school fees and airport transfers - can cost between £18,000 and £24,000, while full boarding at a top school now commands fees of up to £33,000 a year.

Hilary Moriarty, national director of the Boarding Schools' Association, said the phenomenon could pose a threat to vulnerable boarding schools, which increasingly rely on the overseas market to boost numbers.

As well as the lower costs, parents were attracted by the prospect of their child staying with a British family, rather than mixing with fellow overseas students in a boarding house and failing to learn the language, she said. The arrangement is currently most popular with the Chinese: half of day-school overseas pupils whose parents live abroad are from China.

Ms Moriarty was also concerned that UK boarding numbers could come under threat from competitor countries such as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Antipodean nations were particularly well-placed to serve the booming Asian market, she explained.

The UK, meanwhile, could struggle to compete because of the government's "schizophrenic" attitude to immigration. Whereas the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills actively advertised for foreigners to come to the UK, Home Office policies had become increasingly unwelcoming, Ms Moriarty said.

Private boarding schools in the UK are hugely popular with foreign parents, with more than 23,000 non-British pupils enrolled whose parents live overseas. More than 4,660 pupils come from Hong Kong, more than 3,880 from mainland China and nearly 2,500 from Russia.

On the issue of homestays, Ms Moriarty said: "Everybody sees that as a market which is likely to grow because you are getting a boarding education and not paying a boarding fee. …

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