Wednesday, September 13, 2006


British independent schools are attracting record numbers of Chinese pupils as China's new elite seek the prestige of a traditional English education. More than a thousand Chinese pupils have entered Britain's leading boarding schools this term, double the number five years ago. Many are the offspring of China's new wealthy entrepreneurial classes, who can comfortably afford 20,000 pounds-a-year boarding fees, but there are some from more modest backgrounds. These children cover the fees with pooled donations from their extended families, who regard the expense as a sound investment in the future of the whole clan.

Most of the pupils arrive to do A levels, with the aim of gaining entry to one of Britain's leading universities where they hope to gain professional qualifications, mainly in the sciences, accountancy, business studies and economics. The Independent Schools Council said that there were about 2,500 pupils from mainland China in British independent schools. "The numbers have risen sharply over the past ten years, from a base of zero," the council said. "The Chinese regard British independent schools as the best in the world and the schools, for their part, are actively recruiting in China, just like the universities do. It is a great British export success story."

In Harrogate Ladies' College, which was one of the first schools to recruit from China, half the 120-strong sixth form are Chinese. At Roedean, in Brighton, 80 per cent of the sixth form are Chinese. [Amazing!] David Andrews, the deputy head at Harrogate, said that the North Yorkshire school visited educational fairs in Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai once a year to attract pupils. "The girls come here for two years and tend to study non-English-language subjects, such as maths, further maths, science and business studies. Their work ethic is amazing," Mr Andrews said.

Neil Hawkins, principal of Concord College, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, which has 45 Chinese pupils, said that there was now competition for potential pupils. "In the early days, Chinese parents were interested in their children getting an English education, full stop. Now the market has developed and they are becoming more discerning and are relying on personal recommendations for particular schools," he said.

However, Heathfield St Mary's School, in Ascot, Berkshire, is keeping its Chinese intake down. "It's a small school and if you start to over-fill it with a particular type of pupil, it can be too much," Frances King, the headmistress, said. "In China, there is a notion that the teacher is always right, and this can make the girls reluctant to ask questions for fear of exposing the teacher as ignorant. Our emphasis on encouraging the girls to engage in challenging discussion can sometimes take them by surprise."

For Weishi Kong, 18, from Beijing, an A-level student at Harrogate Ladies' College, studying in England has opened up a whole new world - and a whole new way of thinking. "At school in China, there can be up to 60 students in a class. We don't have the chance, or the time, to ask questions. The tradition there is: let the teacher teach. Here we are encouraged to ask questions. I like it," she said. "I get opportunities here to do things, like amateur radio, that I might not do in China." She was able to speak English before arriving in Britain and is studying biology, chemistry and maths at A level.

Angel Sin, 19, a Hong Kong Chinese pupil at the school, is taking A levels in the sciences and further maths and hopes to go on to study at the University of Manchester or the University of Liverpool. "Back home everyone is always in a hurry. Here you are given more time just to be yourself and try your hardest," she said. Although she was initially homesick she has now settled in to the English way of life. "One thing I really like about England is fish and chips. And ketchup. I love ketchup," she added. [An amusing response from someone brought up on one of the world's great cuisines! I share her liking for fish & chips, however]


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