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Roland Martin - Issue #40

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Why we should keep welcoming international students ... and why I've written to my MP.
 

Roland Martin

January 17 · Issue #40 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Why we should keep welcoming international students … and why I’ve written to my MP.

Government consultation
I understand that the Government is expected to consult soon on potentially restricting the number of overseas students studying in the UK, as part of an effort to control immigration. It is a topic not unfamiliar to higher education establishments, but a new hot potato for boarding schools.
Dramatic Impact
Although any restrictions might not have as dramatic an impact on a school like Freemen’s as on others - out of our 930 students, only 60 are boarders - there are questions to be asked regarding the future of more fully boarding schools in Britain. As someone who has been involved in boarding and boarding schools for most of my career, I felt it to be important to put forward a point of view ahead of this consultation.
English speaking schools
At present, over 20,000 young people from overseas come to the UK each year to study at the UK’s 480 state and independent boarding schools. The UK has more boarding schools than any other country in the world and these are highly regarded and respected by parents overseas who recognise the quality, reputation and value of a British education. This week alone, we have been interviewing students for places at Freemen’s from countries as diverse as the Dominican Republic, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA. As an aside, the increased building of English-speaking schools overseas, which - as this 2014 article shows - has been the trend for a number of years, backs up this claim; such schools are no longer just the province of Brits abroad. 
In short, we are a market leader for boarding provision, and should be proud of that fact. Overseas students enrich the lives of UK boarding schools and create highly diverse communities where all young people can learn and develop. At Freemen’s, a relatively narrow social spectrum of young people is most definitely enhanced and enriched by the addition of intelligent peers from different cultures and countries.
For some time we have been reading of the increase in international boarding numbers - in articles such as this one from The Telegraph - but the figures can be skewed depending on whether expat and diplomatic family numbers are included or not.
Good business sense
From a financial point of view, according to the Oxford Economics 2014 report for the Independent Schools Council (ISC), overseas boarders generate an estimated gross value added contribution of £713 million to GDP, support 17,300 jobs and generate tax revenues of £278 million. Many boarding schools - particularly the small countrified ones, or the vast sprawling towers occupying pretty much a whole village - are key employers in small local communities and a loss of overseas students could have a direct and damaging effect; this, for example would be particularly true of my last school, Rendcomb College, which provides much needed opportunities in a largely rural area … as many boarding Schools do up and down the country.
Visas and red tape
To accept overseas students, boarding schools have to achieve trusted sponsor status from the Home Office and meet very stringent visa requirements, such as ensuring that students have a named guardian in the UK and taking responsibility for them returning home at the end of term. The Tier 4 arrangements are rigorous. Boarding schools work extremely diligently to ensure all arrangements for overseas students are managed professionally and responsibly and eliminate any risk of any students under the age of 18 entering or remaining in the UK illegally as a migrant. Schools are regularly inspected on the measures that they have in place and are incredibly accountable.
#iloveboarding - the boarding brand
It is important to resist restriction in this important area for UK boarding schools. The UK benefits from the contribution made by overseas boarding students and their presence does not in any way constitute an immigration issue or risk. Moreover, the reputation that the UK has in this area is one that the Government should be supporting and celebrating - for which, see the BSA’s campaign across social media platforms, #iloveboarding: “There’s never been a better time to board at a British boarding School! Did you know that 90% of boarding pupils proceed to the university of their choice? Boarding helps to foster confidence, community spirit, independence and social skills.” 
UK boarding education is an aspirational brand, both in Europe and further afield. There are many good reasons to board, and many more good reasons to board in Britain. Not only this, a modern cosmopolitan boarding school offers local and international students opportunities to connect with different figurative and literal landscapes, essentially to make friends from various corners of the globe ahead of taking up their positions as working adults in the ‘global village’.
Letters to parliament
And so, all of the above considered, I felt compelled to write to my MP, Chris Grayling. Mr Grayling was remarkably prompt in his response; perhaps my letter made a welcome change from complaints about trains.
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