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【The Standard】UK independent school fee refunds and the plan for September entry

Boarding 101


With the news that Wuhan has partly reopened after more than two months of isolation, there is definite hope for all those now struggling with Covid-19 and the lockdown in the UK.

Now that UK schools have closed and gone over to online education, some parents in Hong Kong and Asia have expressed the opinion that a refund, or a reduction, of the fees for this final term is reasonable. I understand where they are coming from. The thinking is that since schools cannot provide their usual services, this should be reflected in what they charge.

Although parents are, in fact, contractually obliged to pay the full fees, many schools are looking to help parents and families who are struggling financially because of the pandemic.

Some are offering reductions on charges such as catering and some have agreed not to increase the fees for next year.

Unfortunately, not all schools that would like to help in this way are able to. They cannot accommodate parents’ wishes without putting themselves in a difficult financial position because they don’t have the wealth to survive such a substantial move as returning a large share of fees for an entire term.

The bottom line is, however, that nearly all teachers are still teaching and nearly all students are still learning. It’s just that it’s happening online.

Looking ahead to September – the start of the next academic year – the situation seems very positive. Believe it or not, international demand is actually higher than ever. It’s true that there has been a dip this month, but interest is now growing again.

Earlier in the year, I made the prediction that this year would see an increase of 50 percent in interest in UK education. I foresaw that the political situation in Hong Kong and the disruptions caused by protests would encourage families to consider sending children abroad so that they could study in peace and safety.

Then, the coronavirus came along and changed the situation again. There has been an increase, but it has been more like 25 percent than the 50 percent I initially anticipated. But, if conditions see some improvement, I still suspect that we will actually see the highest entry numbers in a long time.

UK schools are making great efforts to reassure parents. The team at Harrogate Ladies’ College, for example, has told me that parents should not worry about accepting places for September.

If the coronavirus pandemic isn’t resolved by then and students cannot join the school in September because of restrictions (either in the UK or in their home country), then they have a choice: either they can defer their place until January or receive a refund on their deposit and not be charged the fees for the autumn term.

It is interesting to see that families’ school choices have been affected by the situation too. There is now a greater interest in rural schools in places such as Devonshire, East Anglia and Yorkshire than in schools situated in built-up areas.

So whereas before institutions such as Epsom College and City of London Freeman’s School were popular, now families are going for Downside School, Culford School, St Peter’s School and Ampleforth College. Barnard Castle School actually has no places left, which is not something we are used to seeing.

Incidentally, university places reflect a similar trend. Institutions in the big cities, such as the University of Sheffield, University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham, are less popular with international students than usual.

Universities that are more out of the way, though, are now very much in demand – in particular there is great interest in Lancaster University and Durham University.

Overall, parents should definitely not feel discouraged from pursuing an international education for their children at this time.