The UK education is shifting: Implications for your education plans
Michael A. Mehari

Editor's note: This letter is from Michael A. Mehari, who is the head of communications at BeGo Education, the education brand of LC Venture. The letter reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily those of CGTN.

UK education has been arguably one the most influential system of education in the world for centuries, with the iconic universities of Oxford and Cambridge going as far as the 10th century. These two universities have been educating the elites of not just the UK but of the world. The UK is also home to some of the most prestigious UK boarding schools, with some going as far back as half a millennia. Together, they are responsible for 45 of the 55 UK's prime ministers, including the one currently in Office.

British education has also not remained confined to its shores but has been an international commodity. According to ISC Research, it is currently being taught at 12, 119 international schools across the world, with a total enrollment of 5.58 million students globally. Report show there were 485, 645 international students studying in the UK in 2018/19, with 24, 674 of them studying at British independent schools. Britain's top universities, as well as boarding and day schools, have also been the best models for educational excellence, adopted by many around the world.

However, the face of UK education is fast changing. The UK is having stiff competition form of the U.S., which has knocked it off from the top spot, attracting twice as many students from the rest of the world. But perhaps the most potent forces of change are coming from within the UK. There is an ongoing debate that the UK boarding schools and Oxbridge are caught in a never-ending cycle where they cannot escape each other and this is being fiercely challenged. 

Organisations like Sutton Trust are leading the challenge. According to their report, the eight top schools had as many Oxbridge acceptances as another 2894 schools and colleges across the UK put together. The argument is that although only 7 percent of the UK population attend independent schools and roughly 1 percent graduate from Oxford and Cambridge, these elite are holding the lion's share of the government, business, media…etc. and decision-making power in the UK. They see this trend as worrying and many are demanding change.  

These changes are nowhere felt than in the recent admission results to top universities, including Oxbridge. Leading UK universities are now more open to admitting students from a wider pool of students, including international applicants. They advertise contextual admission on their websites, and applications from less-advantaged regions and segments of the UK are now reaching admissions desks easily. The latest numbers with the state school Brampton Manor Academy getting more offers from Oxbridge than Eton School indicates that the top universities are paying attention.

An Oxford University student at Radcliffe Square. /VCG

An Oxford University student at Radcliffe Square. /VCG

Speaking to Financial Times recently, Samina Khan, Oxford's director of undergraduate admissions said, "We want to select the academically most able - the really strong candidates versus those that are average but have been well-prepared." Dr Sam Lucy, the director of admissions at Cambridge also said, "Nobody is entitled to get into Cambridge. You have to earn your place by being serious about your subject and going above and beyond the school curriculum. No one should expect to get in, but if they do, they will have deserved it."

So, what does all this mean for Chinese applicants to the UK? Starting early has never been more important and application to a top university is becoming meritorious and only academically able students should consider applying. Parents who aim for Oxbridge applications must appreciate the academic rigor at these universities and have the right career aspiration and passion to commit to an early start. At BeGo Education, we continue to witness how students who showed real aspiration and drive and who received proper guidance and support early on continue to succeed at the highest levels. 

The role of international education as a pathway to elite schools will also continue to be key to a successful transition. But there has been a recent rise in the popularity of bilingual schools in China and the international departments at Chinese public schools. This is bringing stiff competition to the gates of international schools and the long-term implications for international education will remain to be seen.

In the UK too, boarding schools are being forced to change. However, owing to their rich academic heritage and hundreds of years of symbiosis with Oxbridge, no one should write off the UK boarding schools quickly. As soon as the effects of the pandemic wear off, UK boarding schools are expected to continue to see a rise in applicants, especially in attracting the best international talents from Europe and Asia.

As the Chinese middle class continues to grow, the search for better education opportunities will continue to intensify and there will not be a shortage in options. But making careful and informed choices will be key for their children's long-term success.

Michael A. Mehari

Head of communications at BeGo Education

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