Chinese pupils flock to UK independent schools

Updated: 2016-10-17 16:48

By Wang Mingjie in London(

  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small

Chinese pupils flock to UK independent schools

The number of Chinese students being educated at British boarding schools is booming as parents seek to prepare them for entry into an elite UK college or university network that already hosts tens of thousands of Chinese students seeking a degree.

The Independent School Council, a nonprofit organization representing more than 1,200 schools, says the number of Chinese students this year who have parents living overseas increased by nearly 70 percent, compared to five years ago when there were 3,708.

China remains the top origin of overseas pupils for a second year in a row, with 6,280 Chinese students in British schools. A further 1,023 Chinese students have parents living in Britain while they study, according to the latest ISC census report.

Alexander Nikitich, founder of Carfax Education, which helps place foreign students at leading UK schools and universities, says fast-rising numbers of Chinese pupils at British schools reflects newly generated private wealth in China in recent years.

Other educationalists say the popularity among Chinese families of boarding schools, where pupils reside during the school term, also reflects the breadth and caliber of the education they provide.

"Wealthy Chinese parents want an education that develops their child’s character, their confidence, independence, creativity, teamwork and leadership skills to prepare them to run a business in the future, which UK education is famous for," said William Vanbergen, the founder of BE Education, an organization that helps Chinese students gain entry into elite UK schools.

All students coming to study in UK schools are required to take an English proficiency test if their mother tongue is not English. Each school may set additional tests of their own choosing.

Alan Bird, deputy headmaster at Brighton College, said applicants will generally be asked to sit entrance exams, often in maths and English, plus an interview with a senior member of staff.

"The procedures will be designed to ensure that the applicant will flourish within the academic environment offered by the school concerned, that the applicant will contribute to the broader life of the school, and that the applicant will adjust to life within the boarding community," Bird added.

Chinese pupils enrolled at British boarding schools often experience culture shock. When Xu Kailun arrived at Wellington College in 2013, he found it difficult to adjust to the ways in which British people greet one another, and did not know the best way to respond to the greeting "how are you?"

"In the first month, I felt a little bit awkward to answer it in the primary school way, ‘I am fine, thank you. And you?’ so I chose to smile but say nothing. But one day, my housemaster told me that it was an impolite way to greet others by saying nothing," Xu said.

Xu suggests the best way to overcome culture shock is to act the same as the locals.

"Don’t be afraid to ask if there is anything that you don’t understand," he said.

The move from China to the UK can be daunting because pupils are in a foreign environment far from family. At the same time, they have the opportunity to look after themselves, without being over-dependent on their families, which is a good way to prepare for the future.

Li Luoyi, a 14-year-old who goes by the nickname Sunny, started at the English preparatory (junior) school Wellesley House in 2013, a decision made jointly with her parents.

At first, she found it hard to take her mind off the fact that she had left her family. But, with help from her new friends, she was able to focus on her studies and learn to enjoy boarding-school life.

"Studying in the UK would generally be beneficial as it is a fascinating experience - everyone is treated equally, no matter what your family background is, therefore more possibilities will be open to you," she said.

Pupils are given a lot more freedom and free time in UK schools, so they have to be extremely determined and self-disciplined to meet expectations, she said.

The flood of Chinese students can be a boon for the UK private schools that enroll them.

Susan Hamlyn, director of the Good Schools Guide Advice Service, said full boarding for a year costs between 22,000 pounds and 37,000 pounds in the UK. She said it can cost even more at fee-paying US schools.

According to Hamlyn, the size of intake in each UK independent school is decided on the number of desks, while at boarding schools, it’s the number of beds.

British schools tend to value diversity and want to have a wide spread of international students. For example, 10 percent of boarders at Wellington College are international students. They come from 41 countries.

"We have huge numbers of Chinese students applying to join Wellington, especially in the Sixth Form, but we will only take one or two per year," said James Dahl, director of admissions at Wellington College.

Most of the top schools are able to pick the best students from the applicants and there are usually long waiting lists. However, Vanbergen from BE Education says some schools can become overly reliant on overseas students.

"This can become a problem both for domestic students - as the whole character of the school can change if there are too many students from one country - and also for the parents and students from China. They might as well just stay in China, rather than fly half way around the world to go to a school with 80 percent other Chinese students."

To contact the reporter: