Yesterday our Managing Director Ferdinand Steinbeis spoke to Ben Figgis, Headmaster of Ardingly College, a co-educational boarding school in West Sussex.
Below is the interview.
FS: Hello Ben. Let’s start with a more general question – where are we with the Brexit at the moment? What do we actually know?
BF: Unfortunately, we don’t know anything for certain yet. The negotiations between Brussels and the British government will take a very long time. At least, our government has declared the topic of the movement of people between Europe and the UK an absolute priority.
One thing that seems likely though is that pupils coming from EU countries will have to go though a visa process similar to that which non-EU pupils currently go through. Brussels has made it pretty clear that a hard Brexit will most likely mean that EU pupils will need a visa.
Current student visa requirements for non-EU pupils are quite stringent, and I have difficulty imagining that this will not also apply to pupils coming from the EU.
FS: What are the costs associated with this visa?
BF: The current visa application cost for our non-EU families is £500. Moreover, there will be the added administrative effort that comes with the application process, which will make the application to schools like Ardingly more complicated.
FS: Does this worry you?
BF: Of course I worry that this added red tape will put parents off from applying to our school. After all, we had 82 pupils from EU countries before Brexit happened. They are an essential part to the fabric of our school!
At the same time, I am very confident that pupils will come to Britain for their secondary education. After all, nothing will change from a cultural, pastoral and educational perspective here! We guarantee that our pupils will still receive the excellent all-round education and care that Ardingly College is known for.
British schools will go out of their way to show European parents and students that they still actively welcome them in their schools. For example, it may be a good idea for British schools to absorb the additional cost of visas as a sign of goodwill. I would need to discuss this with my school’s governors of course, so this isn’t official yet!
FS: When do you think the visa requirements might start?
BF: My best guess would be 2020 at the earliest. More realistically around 2022. Negotiating Brexit will take at least two years, and then the UK government will have a mountain of administrative changes to make – and they will need to give some notice before they become live. So I would say we are five years away from any significant changes.
FS: What advice would you give worried parents thinking about applying for boarding school in the UK?
BF: I would ask your parents to please remember that 48% of British voters voted to remain in the EU. I guarantee you that the vast number of staff and parents at Ardingly would have been part of this group. Consequently, the environment your children will be studying in is full of people who still want to maintain strong personal and cultural connections with Europe.
Especially this latter point cannot be emphasised enough: at Ardingly we are open-minded, progressive and constantly engage with cultures and schools outside our gates. This will not change!
Also, I would ask parents to see one important upside out of all this. The exchange rate with the British Pound is currently strongly in favour of the Euro. This will make British boarding schools more affordable for the foreseeable future.
FS: Any final thoughts on the matter?
BF: I’d like to emphasise once more that other than a likely change in the application process, British boarding schools will remain the open, inclusive, caring places that they have come to be known for the world over. Political movements come and go, but the cultural connections between us will remain strong.
And lastly – if families from the EU are currently nervous…they won’t be half as nervous as we are!
FS: Ben, thank you very much for this insightful interview!