BOARDING schools could be hit hard by a UK exit from the European Union, campaigners have warned.

The Boarding Schools' Association (BSA)said a vote to leave the EU would be a threat to a market worth £100 million a year to the UK because students would have to apply for visas.

The concerns were backed by John Edward, a spokesman for the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign who is also director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools.

There are currently 5,000 students from the EU studying at UK boarding schools with more than 1,000 attracted to Scotland last year.

Robin Fletcher, chief executive of the BSA, which represents schools such as Glenalmond, in Perthshire, and Loretto, in Musselburgh, said: "There is high demand from parents and students across the world for UK education and this is particularly attractive for families from EU countries because they can come here without a visa.

"That changes completely, however, if Britain leaves the EU. Those same students will be regarded as overseas by the Home Office and will have to have visas which is complicated for parents and schools and may tempt some to look elsewhere."

Mr Edward added: If you are a parent in a genuinely global situation and sending your children overseas to school them sending them somewhere else doesn't really make much difference.

"If the UK was perceived to be a more administratively bureaucratic place to come and study that would undoubtedly impact on teacher and pupil recruitment."

However, Tom Harris, the former Labour MP who is heading up the Vote Leave campaign in Scotland argued that the reason independent schools were successful was because they provided a service people wanted to buy - which would not change if the UK left the EU.