Will International Students Continue To Prefer UK Universities?

With lesser prospects for employment in the UK, and lack of stability, international students’ preference for UK Universities is likely to severely drop.

Written by Jessica Sullivan

Universities and institutions of higher education are nervously awaiting results of the Brexit negotiations, which they anticipate could be a cause of concern and require them to re-evaluate their targets for international students. Some may question as to why this is such a big deal, and is it not in fact preferable that UK universities focus on UK born students? As it turns out, no, not for universities and colleges that thrive on the added income from international students. Last year foreign students added £25.8 billion to the British economy, and if expected barriers to entry for EU nationals puts them off applying to study in the UK, then we can expect that figure to reduce significantly.

Brexit’s impact on International Students

1) Immediate impact

As a result of the referendum, there was a significant drop of 41,000 foreign student applications for long-term courses (Office for National Statistics). Surprisingly, 31,000 of those were non-EU students, who cited difficulties in then moving to Europe for work as a reason for avoiding study in the UK.

International students have also indicated that uncertainty over stricter restrictions on immigration once they have finished studying in the UK, is a reason for avoiding enrollment at the universities. Instead they are applying for courses in mainland Europe, North America, and Australia, which can offer more stability.

2) Long-term Impact

Student’s from EU countries had been eligible to reduced foreign tuition rates and student loans, but while the government has indicated that this will remain intact for 2017/18 and those already studying, those discounts are unlikely to be available afterwards. This will largely be due to the ceasing of EU funding for UK higher education. For students who had relied on this, study in the UK might become an unaffordable option.

3) The impact on British students

Needing a Visa to study and work will be in effect in both directions, and British students who consider travelling or studying abroad will also be faced with requiring a visa, higher tuition fees, and limited loan opportunities to study in Europe.

Part of what has contributed to making the UK education system revered around the world, is the education its students pick up by being able to learn from people who have immigrated to the UK in order to study from different countries and interact with people from cultures around the globe. In a society ruled by massive corporations with operations in multiple countries, it is a key skill to be able to effectively communicate with clients and colleagues from other countries with diverse cultures.

It has been suggested that as a consequence of leaving the EU and the resulting fallout, some of the brighter British students could decide to seek cultural diversity from foreign universities, and go on to pursue careers elsewhere, leading to a lack of expertise in UK business and manufacturing.

International students

Teaching and Research

Universities research faculties will also feel the impact on their funding and employment rights, with British universities currently being aided by £1 billion in funding from the European Union and 16% of its professors and lecturers, coming from European nations. As can be imagined, the research being carried out by and in UK universities is imperative to developments in social research and scientific breakthroughs, the likes of which have contributed significantly to our quality of life, quality of healthcare, and booming export trade. The impact on the higher education industry therefore, will not just be in terms of income to the Universities but will likely have reverberating effects.


The reduction in foreign students could also seriously damage the investment that UK universities were putting into expansion programmes. Previously, around £2 billion was forecasted to be spent on expansions between 2017 and 2020. with the drop in funds from international students, it is unlikely that that pace will be maintained and cuts may have to be implemented. Any lack in investment is likely to lead to insufficient utilities to properly teach technical subjects.

Graduate employment

The immigration process is likely to change significantly for EU nationals, who. Post-Brexit will need a Tier 1 Visa,  with very high requirements to be met, to apply for any graduate roles in the UK. Unsurprisingly, this is likely to have a significant effect on a student’s decision of where to study and will depress the incentive to come to the UK.

Despite this, the Department for Education are optimistic that the UK can still provide students with world-class education at degree level. The Guardian reported that within six months of graduating 70% of graduates would be employed in professional occupations. Whether that figure can be increased or maintains remains to be seen, with several companies threatening to pull operations in London.

Ripple Effects On The Economy

Thomas Colson painted a bleaker picture for the Business Insider, suggesting that losing foreign students will have a much higher impact than reported. On that note, he pointed out that the plans by Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to cut student visa approvals by half, will cost the economy £10.7 billion, including money generated by the 170,000 EU national students who are also in employment.

This isn’t including the money lost from tuition fees, living costs such as rent and food, and other expenditures which would cause a multiplier effect. All costs combined, this is estimated to be worth over £2 billion to the economy.

Is there any hope?

Universities are hoping that a reduction in the value of the sterling will make the tuition fees more attractive to a global market. While prices are still much lower than in the US however, it can be reasonably assumed that it will take a little while for applications to increase again.

We are also in the dark at the moment over what changes will actually come into effect after negotiations have finished. It could be that a softer deal is reached with European officials, and immigration policies won’t change that much, although all indications at the moment suggest that is unlikely. In the wake of Brexit proceeding on the lines it is now, the UK higher education industry will suffer.

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