Monday, 4 March 2013

Educating the world's rich kids

Britain has benefited from a virtuous circle that brings wealthy overseas students to the UK, many of whom then go on to work here (supplementing our skills base), build companies here or actively trade with us.  This Anglophile constituency of the great and the good are an invaluable asset to the UK.

The cycle works like this:  Wealthy foreigners looking for the best education money can buy select one of the top ranked independent boarding school in the UK. The child gets assimilated into our culture and insists on going to university in the UK, gaining a good place because of the advantages of private schooling.   Once they have been educated here it’s an easy decision to work here or actively trade with us.  This process of indoctrination also helps us to ‘punch above our weight’ in international relations, imagine if the French had the private schools we have; they might even be taken seriously in the corridors of global power.

In addition to these medium term benefits we earn some £500 million p.a. of exports from the fees changed to these overseas students.  Added to this success the 500,000 children in private schools save the government about £5 bn a year in education cost.  So when people moan about our two tier system they should thank their luck stars that our private sector provides the best education from 8-18 in the world!

Eton Wall game

You would think that the current government would ‘get’ this and be careful to nurture this wonderful advantage we have over our competitors, particularly as virtually all the cabinet were privately educated.  But it seems this is not the case.  Home Office data shows that visa applications for overseas student declined last year by 18 per cent - 62 per cent for the further education sector, 69 per cent for English language schools.  Most worryingly there was a 14 per cent decline for independent schools.  By contrast, the Home Office data suggested that visa applications for universities had gone up by 3 per cent.  Whilst the University number is good news one should worry about decline in younger students joining our private schools.

The US, Canada and Australia, are Britain’s main competitors in the higher education market and they all class students as temporary migrants, which means they are not included in the overall figures, and we should do the same.  The prime minister has tried to correct the growing impression that the UK does not welcome overseas students, emphasising on his recent visit to India that there was no limit on the number of international students allowed into Britain. 

It probably too early to say but it looks like the Tories have come up with another policy that, although well intention, could be disastrous due to unintended consequences.

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