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Brexit and UK Independent Schools – what we know so far and how it may affect you

Educational news, education for EU students, Brexit - UK Study Centre blog
Last Updated: 28 Mar, 2019

With so little to be sure of in terms of “Brexit” and the end of free movement, we at least have some clarification from the UK government on how EEA national students will be able to study in the UK once we leave the EU…

Whilst the UK government battles on in its attempt to finalise a deal with the EU, businesses and schools remain somewhat uncertain about what the future might hold. However there has been some clarification from the government about how a final deal will affect the UK’s education system. In order to reassure our readers, we explain how Brexit is going to affect admissions into UK independent (boarding & day) schools, should you be an EEA national or otherwise.

So how will Brexit impact admissions to independent schools?

The UK government already published the future skills-based immigration system white paper in December 2018. This effectively detailed that only independent schools will be able to sponsor EEA (European Economic Area) children who come to the UK for their education from 2021:

«It is the Government’s intention that the same checks will apply to students from the EEA. All students coming to the UK under the future system will be sponsored by the institution at which they are studying, as is currently the case for non-EEA students. We recognise that this will increase the volume of students whom institutions will need to sponsor.»

This will be similar to the current process for non-EEA nationals, who must obtain at Tier 4 visa in order to come to the UK to study. So, from 2021 all overseas students (from the EU and otherwise) must now obtain sponsorship from their chosen institution. Ultimately, this means only independent schools will be able to sponsor overseas students. UK state-funded schools will not be able to accept EU students as they won’t have the means to sponsor them.

Most notable independent schools will already have a sponsorship licence in place. However, the majority of UK independent day/boarding schools also set a rough idea of the percentage of international students they are willing to take per academic year. These places will undoubtedly become more competitive now students from the EU will be classed as ‘international’ and will require sponsorship too.

A transition period will run from 29th March 2019 until 31st December 2020. Julie Moktadir, a specialist immigration lawyer from Cambridge law firm Stone King, has clarified what various Brexit deals may mean:

If an EEA national already resides in the UK prior to 29 March 2019, and the UK’s departure from Europe, they will be entitled to stay, and must register under the new settlement scheme. (...) However, for EEA nationals who have not already moved to the UK, their rights will depend upon the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. There are two possibilities. (...) If no deal is agreed, EEA nationals moving to the UK after 29 March 2019 will be entitled to come to the UK for an initial period of up to three months and will thereafter be eligible to apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain. (...) If there is a deal, free movement will continue until the end of the transition period.

What might the future hold?

UK independent schools may be particularly affected by Brexit. At the moment, it is unclear how families across the world might react to the “Brexit-effect”. The 2018 Independent Schools Council Census detailed that 10% of students in the UK’s independent schools are from overseas compared to just 6% across the entire sector. The limited places for overseas students in independent schools could become very competitive but they may also begin to dwindle. Despite the cost of schools fees remaining the same, it is no secret that some independent schools rely heavily on the additional interest overseas students bring in. Most institutions will be hoping Brexit doesn’t affect business.

Educational news, education for EU students, Brexit - UK Study Centre blog 3

According to ISC data, at present the second most popular place of origin for pupils studying within UK’s independent school sector is the EEA. Now that students from these countries will need to obtain visa sponsorship to study in the UK, might they choose other European countries instead?

According to market research carried out by Faith Kitchen at Ecclesiastical Insurance,

Just 23% of independent schools feel completely prepared to deal with the change Brexit will bring. Changes to the eligibility of EU students to study in the UK and any increases in fees could seriously affect student numbers and income for independent schools. This could be intensified if companies, and therefore the families of employees, relocate to mainland Europe as a reaction to Brexit and we see a large-scale exit of current students.

This month it has been reported that “Chinese investors” are “ready to snap up struggling private schools” once Brexit has been resolved. The Achieve Group, which owns Chase Grammar, a boarding school in Cannock, Staffordshire, and Abbotsholme School in nearby Uttoxeter, has said that it has “exciting plans to make further acquisitions over the next few years”. They are appointing a new Admissions Director to recruit more pupils in China and elsewhere overseas. As Brexit doesn’t change the admissions process for students from countries such as China, independent schools will take some comfort in knowing this market will continue to prosper.

What about school trips?

Many independent schools across the UK pride themselves on the excellent overseas school trips they offer as part of the curriculum or in addition to academic study. Now that the government has set out new visa requirements for EEA nationals, how might this affect travelling on a school trip? In April 2018, a letter from UK schools organisations – signed by the British Council, the Association of School and College Leaders, the NAHT headteachers' union and the National Education Union – stated:

“The benefits of exchange programmes and foreign trips for pupils are widely accepted, and so visa arrangements must enable straightforward international visits and exchanges, rather than school children visiting Boulogne for the day having to apply for visas…Britain’s future prosperity and place in the world depends on a new generation of outward looking, multilingual, globally minded young people who are prepared to live, work and thrive in the global economy.”

How can UK Study Centre help?

UK Study Centre has advised hundreds of international parents and their children on schooling options here in the UK. Brexit will not deter us from offering the very best in education consultancy to our current and future clients. To find out more about how we can help you, click here.

Our next post will discuss the impact of Brexit on university-level education.

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