Brexit Is Sending Students Packing, Straining Private Schools on Both Ends

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While campuses in Britain look toward Asia in their struggle to refill seats, those on the Continent are scrambling to prepare for a crush of new pupils.

LONDON — For years Dover College, on the southeast coast of England, has attracted a steady flow of summer students from across the channel, with parents willing to pay for their children to learn English in a boarding school environment.

Brexit, it seems, has changed that. Enrollment has wilted, and the headmaster, Gareth Doodes, has adjusted his future budget in anticipation of a new reality.

“I’ve changed my business model,” said Mr. Doodes, whose school has about 300 day school pupils and boarders within its medieval walls. “We now have more pupils who come to us from non-E.U. countries than before so I don’t find myself in a financial deficit.”

The unending and inelegant debate on how Britain will leave the European Union may rumble on through October, the latest Brexit deadline. But more than 2,000 private schools in Britain and thousands of overseas campuses are tied up in their own debates about how best to prepare for a changed population.

Mr. Doodes’s numbers for the fall term are holding steady, but the summer school drop was an alert. He is monitoring calls from European parents, he said, who “seem reticent to commit for the long term,” citing concerns about visas.

The struggle is especially tough for British schools that rely on fees from workers who might leave after Brexit, said Neil Roskilly, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Association. So far, a cheaper pound has helped keep school fees affordable, he said.

British schools have been attractive to students from Asia, and some may even find themselves an appealing acquisition for investors from places like India and China.

Smaller private schools, with 200 to 350 students, are vulnerable, Mr. Roskilly said. They often “felt the competition and put money into new buildings,” leaving loans they have to repay, he explained. He knows potential buyers are circling some schools, he added, and expects as many as 15 will close or be sold to overseas buyers in the next year.

Some organizations have hedged their bets by opening campuses overseas, according to the Independent Schools Council, a national umbrella organization that includes associations like Mr. Roskilly’s. “There’s definitely movement afoot,” said Colin Bell, the chief executive of an affiliate of the I.S.C., the Council of British International Schools, which plans to start training teachers in cities like Brussels.

“There’s this uneasy feeling about Brexit,” Mr. Bell added. “There is some concern about the perception that the U.K. no longer welcomes foreigners.”

Beate Schweighofer, an Austrian who had lived in Britain for a decade, began to have misgivings after the vote in 2016 to leave the European Union. “This openness that we treasured so much in the U.K., we felt it was tainted,” Ms. Schweighofer, who has three young children, said.

She also believed that Brexit would damage the economy and squeeze funding for state schools, including one her son attended.

“I firmly believe the economy will take a hit,” Ms. Schweighofer, 42, said. “We just had the impression that we would raise our children in a society that is at a breaking point for many of the services that are important for us.”

So she left her job to find work in Frankfurt, where her husband, a trader at an international bank, could be transferred, and where two of her children will attend a private school.

Educators in Frankfurt and Amsterdam have also found Brexit to be a baffling complication. Private schools that anticipated enrolling the children of transferred parents are unsure of how many children to expect, how old they will be or when they will turn up. A flurry of enquiries months ago has yet to translate into applications, school representatives said.

“There’s a lot of interest from families, consultancies, banks calling up and asking whether we have some opportunities for some spots, reserving some spots, asking how quickly we can react,” said Christoph Kexel, the managing partner at Accadis, an international school in Bad Homburg, on the outskirts of Frankfurt.

But parents, he said, have yet to confirm spots.

“I would love to tell you it’s booming, but it’s not true,” Svetlana Kazantseva, head of marketing at ISF International School Frankfurt Rhein-Main, said. International companies have reserved places at her school, but in many cases have not yet named which children would attend.

Family relocations that involve multiple children make planning even harder.

“If you’ve got a family moving to Amsterdam and they want a place at the school, if they’ve got more than one child, you’ve got to have space to accommodate in different year groups,” said Paul Morgan, the principal of the British School in Amsterdam.

Many schools are already oversubscribed. The American School of The Hague has a waiting list and has been trying to expand its facilities. The possibility of a Brexit-related boom — The Hague is near Amsterdam, where several big companies have moved offices from London — can’t really be calculated.

“It’s tough on both sides,” said Courtney Lowe, the school’s director. “The parents don’t know which schools will have places. It’s tough on us because we know this many workers are moving — but how many have kids, what ages?”

International teachers are usually hired in the spring, but until the schools are sure how many pupils are coming, they are reluctant to make job offers.

King’s College, part of a coalition of schools in Spain, Panama, Latvia and Britain, opened a campus in Frankfurt last summer. It has 40 children in primary school and expects to have more than 100 by September. Eventually the school will have room for 600 children up to age 18; administrators say they will open a secondary school as enrollment rises.

The coalition’s move into Germany predated Brexit, but Britain’s withdrawal has added impetus to the expansion.

“The truth is that Brexit was an incentive because the odds were, and still are, that Frankfurt could be the biggest beneficiary of any exodus that takes place,” Nicholas Fry, vice chairman at King’s Group, said.

Schools like King's are also competing for teachers with institutions in Dubai, Singapore and China that offer more lucrative compensation packages.

“Undoubtedly, salaries will go up,” Mr. Fry said, so it’s most likely that “margins are going to go down.”

In Shanghai, Fraser White, the chairman and founder of Dulwich College International, has been monitoring movement in Europe. His group, linked to a London private school of the same name, has schools across Asia and is looking to expand.`

“Europe has become more attractive as a place to build Dulwich Colleges than before,” said Mr. White, who has considered opening a school in Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam or Geneva. “I’m actually waiting to see what happens with Brexit.”

Schools are aware that not all the Brexit-related migrants will come with company packages that pay for education. Companies may use Brexit as an opportunity to reconsider such perks.

“When companies are paying, it’s a much more stable environment,” said Dr. Lowe of the American School of The Hague. Individual parents who pay are “much more price sensitive,” he noted.

When looking for a school in London, Ms Schweighofer had pored over school guides and paid a consultant to research local institutions, and she said she had been surprised to find there was no similar wealth of resources in Frankfurt. It took a road trip to Germany before she and her husband chose Accadis for their sons, ages 5 and 7.

Still, Ms. Schweighofer, who speaks German, knows the process was easier for her than for other families who could be uprooted by Brexit. She has friends in Frankfurt, and “we got the move paid and we had the choice,” she said.

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