Despite Brexit, international students still keen to study at UK business schools
International students are still attracted to the UK as a study abroad destination, according to recent studies. Source: Shutterstock

The Brexit results released an immediate sense of fear and uncertainty among the UK higher education sector.

There were worries that Britain leaving the EU could potentially hurt the country’s reputation as one of the top study abroad destinations, also significantly impacting research funding.

Brexit could restrict and complicate the student visa process, making it more difficult for international graduates to work in the country due to changes in work visa policies.

An open letter from leaders of 150 universities to MPs in the country said the impact of a no-deal Brexit could lead to “an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover”.

Furthermore, the letter read, “University leaders are united in the view that the UK leaving the EU without a deal is one of the biggest threats our universities have ever faced. As a sector which contributes over £21bn to UK GDP every year and supports 944,000 jobs, it is critical to the national interest, to the economy, communities and wider society, that the UK’s universities thrive post-Brexit.”

Despite these concerns, a recent study by the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) council found that international students are still keen to study business in the UK.

According to a news release, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has been tracking GMAT examinee interest since June 2016, when the initial Brexit vote was cast.

They did so with “periodic surveys of non-UK citizens who sent a GMAT score report to a UK business school program, as an indication of where they are interested in studying”.

The most recent survey findings from December 2018 revealed that interest for studying in the UK among international students has actually gone up since December 2016.

The results found that “54 percent of respondents overall say Brexit has no impact on their decision to study in the UK, up from 46 percent in December 2016”.

GMAC speculates the increase in candidates’ selecting the UK as their top choice country for business school is “‘likely bolstered by a falling pound and reduced interest in other study destinations around the world over the same period.”

The strong reputation the UK has cultivated for higher education over the past few decades is also a possible factor, and it appears the forthcoming Brexit has not significantly damaged it.

Their ultimate selection when it comes to choosing a business school boils down to desire to study a specific programme or at a school in their location of choice.

The UK government is making attempts to address work visa concerns and encourage more international students to study in the country post-Brexit by extending the post-study leave period for graduating students.

The Department for Education (DfE) recently announced, “There is no limit on the number of international students that can study in the UK, and to ensure the UK continues to attract and welcome them, the post-study leave period will be extended to six months for undergraduate and master’s students, and a year for doctoral students.”

Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC President and CEO, said, “The level of interest we’re seeing from international candidates in UK b-schools is a major factor in the overall global stability we’re observing in graduate management education.

“It’s also a success story in mobility that I hope will continue in the UK as Brexit continues to unfold.  If we are to maintain a healthy climate for aspiring candidates, we need to make it possible for people from different regions and backgrounds to study and work in the location they desire.”

The findings highlighted that there is “some hesitancy among candidates amidst the uncertainty of the looming exit from the EU at the end of this month.”

Most respondents said Brexit has no impact on their decision, but half of non-UK Europeans surveyed said that ” they are less likely to decide to study in the UK because of Brexit (51 percent)”.

However, GMAC found that GMAT score-sending behavior shows that UK business school programmes are still just as popular as it was before the Brexit vote in 2016.

“In fact, the share of GMAT score reports sent to UK programs has increased slightly since the Brexit vote and is stable or up across world regions of citizenship. The increase is particularly strong among examinees from Asia-Pacific countries and examinees with a total score of 600 and above.

“Findings from GMAC’s annual Application Trends Survey also show continued strong international demand for UK programs, as 71 percent report year-on-year international application volume growth in 2018.”

This is line with the fact that students are studying abroad more than ever, as people from the rising middle class in developing nations like China are eager to gain an overseas education.

The strong reputation and quality education in the UK is still a big pull factor for many international students. Source: Shutterstock

Graduate programmes are also on the rise as global business markets get more competitive. According to GMAC, “The MBA remains the predominant credential sought by prospective students. MBA program types continue to be preferred by most prospective students (60%), notwithstanding the growing interest in business master’s program types.”

Although applications to US business schools have fallen, 63 percent of MBA programmes in Europe saw a rise in international applications in 2018.

Uncertainty over the impact of Brexit on international students’ interest in the UK remains. Despite these promising findings, the future is unclear until the actual departure from the EU happen on March 29.

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