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British independent K-12 schools expanding overseas campuses  

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • More than 54,000 young international students are enrolled with independent K-12 schools in the UK
  • Still more are enrolled at offshore campuses outside of the UK
  • The number of overseas campuses grew from 81 in 2020 to 93 in 2022
  • Hong Kong is sending more students to the UK to study in independent schools, and this growth is largely attributable to a new visa launched in 2021 specifically for Hong Kong nationals wanting to resettle in the UK

Independent K-12 schools belonging to the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in the UK are hosting more than 54,000 international students this year, and nearly 60,000 more are studying at one of 93 overseas ICS campuses. The ISC’s Annual Census for 2022 includes data from 1,388 member schools who responded to a survey conducted in January 2022.

Overseas expansion

There has been a significant overseas expansion for ISC schools – with 93 campuses worldwide now enrolling 59,740 international students (up from 52,980 in 2021).  There were 81 campuses in 2021, so this represents notable growth. Having campuses abroad helps to make up for the continuing effects of the pandemic on families’ ability and/or willingness to travel. Travel restrictions were more relaxed in 2021 but not entirely gone, and COVID variants were still flaring up in different regions. There are also about 110 ISC-affiliated schools in numerous countries.

British school campuses are found all over the world, but the majority are in China. Source: ISC

A return to growth

Almost half (24,670) of the students in ISC schools in the UK are there without their parents, who are still overseas, and most of those students are boarders. This group has increased by 1.6% over 2021, a welcome turnaround from the contraction in 2020. The largest proportion of those students are from Hong Kong (5,850) and this proportion is more than triple was it was in 2021 thanks mostly to a of a new UK visa launched in January 2021 specifically meant to permit Hong Kong nationals to resettle in the UK.

By contrast and as illustrated in the chart below, the number of Chinese students attending ISC schools without their parents has been declining sharply over the past couple of years. There are now more students from Hong Kong in ISC schools without their parents in the UK than Chinese students whose parents are also overseas.

Both China and Russa have been sending fewer students to ISC schools than in the past. Tracking enrolment of non-British pupils with parents overseas from selected sending markets, 2007–2022. Source: ISC

The nationalities most represented in international students attending ISC schools while their parents are overseas are Hong Kong (5,850), China (4,880), Germany (2,050), and Spain (1,360).

Of the roughly 31,000 international students attending ISC schools with their parents in the UK, fewer than half come from EEA countries (12,860). The largest sending countries for these parent-accompanied students are China (3,120), Hong Kong (1,540), India (1,385), France (2,830), Poland (1,420), and Ireland (1,374).

Overall, this is the picture of the origin of international students in ISC schools.

Origins of foreign students enrolled in ISC schools in 2022. Source: ISC

Commenting on the international students attending ISC schools, Barnaby Lenon, ISC’s Chairman, said,

“International pupils bring a global perspective to our schools, enrich the community, and are a vital pipeline to British universities. We can see that non-British pupils whose parents live overseas accounted for 4.6% of the total ISC pupil population in 2022. Also noteworthy is the impact of the British National (Overseas) visa for people from Hong Kong, evidenced by the fact that the number of Hong Kong pupils whose parents live in the UK has more than trebled. We have also seen growth in overseas campuses, the income from which helps fund bursaries and keep costs down in the UK.”

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