Independent schools accelerate expansion overseas
Independent schools are widening their reach by setting up new international satellite schools, with a particular focus on the Middle and Far East.
Cambodia, Bangladesh and Vietnam are amongst the countries that have recently benefitted from partnership schemes with private schools.
In the last five years, the number of overseas satellites operated by English charitable private schools has doubled to more than 100, with reports that a further 28 are in the pipeline.
Julie Robinson, Chief Executive of the Independent Schools Council (ISC), said: “As schools look for ways to reduce their reliance on fee-based income, some have taken up opportunities to establish international campuses and partnerships.
“The money generated is invested back in education in the UK, usually through bursaries and scholarships.”
However, Francis Green, a Professor of Work and Education Economics at University College London who has studied the operations of private schools, sounded a word of caution, saying “the ethical implications of returning large profits to Britain from developing countries may come to be questioned, and the practice resented, by foreign governments and their peoples”.
Revenue from overseas satellite schools has risen in the past 10 years, as an increasing number of private schools have opened international branches.
More than half of these satellite schools are in the UAE, China and Hong Kong, with recent branches being lined up in Kenya, Indonesia, Cambodia, India and Vietnam.
Brighton College currently has branches in Thailand, Singapore and the UAE, with plans to open a satellite school in Hanoi later this year.
Haileybury in Hertfordshire has two ‘partner schools’ in Kazakhstan and will soon open satellites Bangladesh and Malta.
Although critics have claimed that international satellites allow English independent schools to use their charitable status which in turns avoids paying UK corporation tax on the profits the subsidiaries would otherwise have reported, the ISC has defended the growth in satellite schools, attributing it to international demand for British education and the success of earlier ventures.
The Labour Party has made no secret of its intention to add VAT to mainstream private school fees in England and also end their charitable status.
It has called tax breaks for private schools “inexcusable,” with Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson saying the party’s pledge to strip them of charitable status if it wins the next election, would result in £11.7billion of “vital funds for the state sector”.
Critics of independent schools have suggested that international expansion has been deliberately ramped up to boost profits ahead of Labour’s proposed tax relief crackdown.
However a spokesperson for the ISC said: “It takes years to plan and set up satellite schools, so the idea that this is a kneejerk reaction to Labour’s policy is definitely wide of the mark.”