Independent schools are relying on a surge in applications from foreign students as they try to beat the recession, according to official figures published today.
The annual census of the Independent Schools Council shows the number of foreign students has risen by 1.4 per to 25, 912 while the number of home-grown students has stagnated.
The figures also show a growing number of independent schools - in total 29 - have set up overseas campuses which educate a further 19,000 foreign students - swelling their coffers and helping pay for more bursaries to help pupils from poor backgrounds.
The rise comes mainly from Russia, China and Nigeria - up 27.4 per cent, 5.4 per cent and 16.3 per cent respectively. By far the largest number of students come from Hong Kong (5,732) and China ((3,891)
In the meantime, a like-with-like comparison of the 1,204 schools that completed the census in both years reveals a 0.3 per cent overall drop in pupil numbers to 503, 132. However, overall pupil numbers have risen to 508, 601 as some larger schools have joined the organisation in the past year.
The drop is most marked in secondary schools and sixth forms (down 0.8 per cent and 1.2 per cent respectively - whereas prep school numbers are rising (up 0.6 per cent). The ISC said this reflected a drop in the age cohort at secondary school level and an increase in those of primary school age.
Regionally, recruitment in London is improving (by 1.1 per cent) -whereas it is tailing off elsewhere (0.6 per cent down). The biggest drop is in Wales (2.7 per cent).
Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the ISC and former headmaster of Harrow, acknowledged the drive to improve recruitment internationally was “partly to provide a source of revenue for UK schools in order to hold down fee increases and fund bursaries”.
The Census also discloses that fee rises were the lowest for almost 20 years at 3.9 per cent with schools recognising parents are struggling as a result of the recession.
Growing numbers of independent school pupils are also seeking university places abroad following the rise in UK fees levels, it adds, with 38 per cent of schools reporting increases in those seeking to leave these shores to study. Only nine per cent reported a drop in demand for overseas university places.