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【SCMP Education Post:Study in the UK】Making sense of the figures

Boarding 101


Official figures from the British Council Services for International Marketing reveal that the number of Hong Kong students in UK independent schools is down by -3.4% this year. While declining demographics may partly explain this figure, there has never been a better time for Hong Kong children to pack their bags and board in the UK … 

The British pound is in freefall; average fee increases for 2016-17 were the lowest since 1994 and there are now a record number of pupils at ISC member schools since records began. The lure of a British education is patently evident and with good reason. Hong Kong parents SHOULD be delving into the facts and figures to weigh up whether a life at boarding school for their child is a step well worth contemplating.

When pitted against other countries, the UK is top of the tree for Hong Kong students as a study abroad destination. A convincing 42% of those who contributed to the British Council survey said that the UK is their first-choice destination for overseas study. Moreover, the fact that 73% of respondents who chose the UK as their first-choice study destination have family or close friends who have already studied in the country reveals a compelling tendency towards word-of-mouth and confidence in a British education.

I think that the academic quality item speaks for itself. A British education embodies breadth and a whole-child approach to learning whereby academic excellence goes hand in hand with social and emotional development. Indeed, children develop numerous soft skills which they need in Higher Education and their future careers.In terms of selecting an overseas study destination, academic quality ranks above all other factors for Hong Kong parents (89%). This is followed by: quality of life (67%), safety and security (65%), institution reputation (55%) and cost (55%). Cost is viewed as the main drawback of studying in the UK, though the same is also true for Australia and the US. As previously mentioned, however, I believe that the cost factor has begun to shift in the favour of Hong Kong families.

The next two items in the list – quality of life and safety and security – are certainly mainstays of boarding life in a UK independent school. Figures and analysis from British Council report have inspired me to consult the 2016 Independent Schools Council (ISC) Census and Report to investigate in more detail the level of trust Hong Kong parents have in the safety and security provided by British independent schools. One figure stands out: The region or country with the lowest percentage of pupils with parents in the UK is Hong Kong (3%). The likes of Japan came in at 57.2% while China saw 14%.

Quite simply, Hong Kong parents trust the education system and the ethos promoted by boarding schools. Studying in the UK is part of our culture and many Hong Kong celebrities, such as Leslie Cheung and Gregory Wong, became very successful as a result of the time they spent in the UK and the confidence they gained from attending boarding school. Parents know that their children are in safe hands and their characters will be moulded for the better.

Hong Kong parents can also rely on house staff members to take great care of their kids, whilst also being fully aware that the school day never really dies down after lessons finish. Children engage in a multitude of extracurricular activities and inter-house competitions which harness respect for others. Therefore, children are constantly on the go and parents trust schools with the way they create children’s timetables.

The UK oozes quality in academic circles and in terms of preparing students for university. The British Council report picks up on that. Yet, I rather wish to draw parents’ attention more to the safety and security offered by boarding schools as it is an overlooked feature of boarding school life. The UK’s best rural boarding schools are often located in low crime areas where true community spirit and effective patrol teams enable children to roam around campuses without incurring suspicious intruders. I believe that children feel safer at British schools than they do at American schools.

Overall, I have tried to read between the lines with these figures. Academic quality is not necessarily a clear front runner when younger Hong Kong students and parents weigh up the advantages of a British education. Safety and security rivals academic quality and the former is a purely sensible demand on the part of Hongkongers. Essentially, British boarding schools tick all the right boxes and I believe there has never been a better time for Hong Kong children to study in the UK – financially, morally, academically and socially.

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