Brexit fears leads to surge in interest in British boarding schools from UAE residents

Drop in pound makes schooling abroad more affordable

Pupils at The King's School in Canterbury. Alamy Stock Photo
Pupils at The King's School in Canterbury. Alamy Stock Photo

Uncertainty over Brexit has led to a surge in interest from UAE parents considering sending their children to British boarding schools.

Experts said a combination of a weakening pound and high costs of schooling in the Emirates meant many families were now reconsidering their options.

This week, representatives from a number of leading UK independent schools were in the UAE as part of a pupil recruitment drive.

Head teachers acknowledged interest from families based in the UK was weakening, while Middle East and Asian markets were surging ahead.

“We have definitely seen more interest from overseas in the last number of years,” said Judith Bristow from The King’s School, in Canterbury, Kent.

“The domestic market has slowed down because people are holding off spending money until Brexit is resolved and we’re experiencing more supply of pupils from international markets.”

Leading UK independent schools were in Dubai to take part in the British Boarding Schools Show, held on March 15 and 16.

The exhibit is designed to give prospective parents the “inside track” on the UK education system, with a variety of academics on hand to provide advice.

Full-time boarding in the UK currently costs an average of Dh103,500 (£21,600) per year, or Dh34,500 (£7,200) per term, according to recent figures released by the UK Independent Schools Council.

The figure is roughly comparable to fees charged by the highest performing British curriculum schools in the UAE, according to online review platform

Brighton College Dubai charges up to Dh107,000 a year per pupil while Cranleigh Abu Dhabi charges around Dh96,000.

Meanwhile, Repton School in Dubai charges up to Dh95,000, while annual fees at Dubai College cost around Dh91,000.

One parent currently living in Dubai said he was now considering sending his son to a UK boarding school due to the substantial drop in the pound since 2016.

“I’m [currently] paying Dh72,000 a year at Jumeirah English Speaking School (JESS) in Dubai,” he told The National.

“Three or four years ago that would have been worth around £11,000 but now it’s worth closer to £15,000.

“But my major reservation is that nobody can predict what is going to happen with the pound. As soon as Brexit is resolved its value could soar and we would be back to square one.

“There’s also the costs of flights [between the UAE and UK during holidays] to consider as well.”

David Wellesley Wesley, founder of the British Boarding Schools Show, said figures over the last two years indicated UK schools were now proving much more popular with overseas pupils.

But he said the financial incentive was not the only factor for families, with British boarding schools also providing a more stable environment for pupils whose parents – especially those in the military or Foreign Office - regularly had to deploy to different countries for work.

“The boarding option also gives stability for those parents that have a mobile career,” he said.

“They could be in Singapore for a couple of years and then move onto a new country. It's not great to move children too much if you can avoid it.”

Mark Boobyer, principal at St Columba’s College in Dublin, said his school also hoped to appeal to foreign nationals living in the UAE.

He said fees in Ireland were substantially lower than in the UK and that the school’s domestic appeal was also strengthening as more major international companies relocated to Ireland over Brexit concerns.

“We charge up to €19,000 (Dh79,000) a year which is significantly lower than comparable schools in the UK,” he said.

“There are also a significant amount of international companies that are relocating to Ireland because of Brexit.

“[Their] executives will want to send their children to the best possible schools, so this a big chance for the Irish economy.”

Updated: March 17, 2019 10:08 AM


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