How Brexit has affected international students so far & what you can do about it
Close to one million students want a say before any final Brexit deal is made. Source: AFP/Leon Neal

Last month, close to one million students in UK colleges and universities demanded a referendum on any final Brexit deal signed between the UK and the European Union (EU).

Brexit was not their choice, according to them – they were too young to vote then – and yet it it’s likely to be them who foot the biggest consequences, plenty of which they claim to be negative.

When the UK voted to leave the EU in June 2016, it unsurprisingly set off alarm bells across the higher education sector and for valid reasons.

As Ken Mayhew, Emeritus Professor of Education and Economic Performance at Oxford University found in his study, there will be foreseeable “loss of research funding from EU sources; loss of students from other EU countries; the impact on the ability of the sector to hire academic staff from EU countries; and the impact on the ability of UK students to study abroad”.

It’s a big hit to the country and its universities. For international students, it’s no different.

But the findings of QS Enrolment Solution’s recently launched International Student Survey 2018 may hold some surprising results.

Pro-EU demonstrators take part in an anti-Brexit march in Brighton, UK. Source: Reuters/Toby Melville

Pro-EU demonstrators take part in an anti-Brexit march in Brighton, UK. Source: Reuters/Toby Melville

The survey of 67,172 students and 63 universities worldwide found that nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of prospective international and EU students said Brexit made no difference to how interested they were about studying in the UK.

Only 14 percent said they were less likely to study in the UK as a result of Brexit.

Such neutrality appears to go against common wisdom. One of the biggest concerns of a post-Brexit UK is that EU students would no longer be eligible for the same fee structure as domestic students. They would have to pay fees accorded to international students, which is significantly higher.

With a more expensive cost to education, you would think it would deter many from applying to the UK (or at least more than the 14 percent recorded).

A closer look at the findings shows that such pessimism towards the UK does exist. The key is to look at the age group most likely to be affected by the fee hikes, ie. those enroling post-March 29, 2019, which is the official day Britain’s membership of the EU will lapse.

Indeed, the survey found that students aged between 15-19 years old – those who are likely to begin their studies in one to two years’ time – record the highest number of decreased interest in the UK as a study destination.

The report wrote: “So it is likely that the uncertainty which surrounds the Brexit negotiations, the ongoing debate on fees and the visa status of future EU students is fuelling this pessimism. These results could also suggest that the full force of the impact of Brexit, on the higher education sector, is still yet to be felt.”

Another group with similar cynicism towards the post-Brexit UK are non-EU international students.

While data shows only 10 percent of international students said they were less interested to study in the UK due to Brexit – compared to 39 percent of EU students – this percentage has been deemed a significant number.

This is because of the 217,055 international students in the UK in 2016/17, 161,020 were non-EU. Ten percent of this figure amounts to “a potential pool of 16,424 ‘at risk’ students”.

“The loss of these non-EU international students coming to the UK could have a very significant financial impact for UK Universities. Using conservative estimates of the average fees paid by undergraduate and postgraduate international students, the ‘at risk’ income from first-year fees could exceed £250 million per annum,” the report wrote.

Uncertainty and what to do about it

It’s now 2018 and students – current and prospective, EU and non-EU – have yet to receive any clear instruction or information about the full effect of Brexit on their studies at UK universities.

While the government’s announcement last October – that EU students enrolling to study at English universities in autumn 2017 will remain eligible for the same loans and grants as domestic students – is commendable, more clarity will be welcome both at the government and university-level.

QS’s report suggests that:  “Any future proposals which help to make the UK a more attractive place to study from a financial perspective should be more widely publicised.”

Students who are worried about their current or future status as a student in the UK should refer to their respective international student services offices for information and advice. Each student’s circumstance will vary, and your ISS offices will be the most suitable source to use.

It would be wise to keep up with the key dates of the Brexit process, even if you aren’t interested in politics – this list by Reuters will be a great help in following the political process to come.

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) this April published a concise summary of what we know for EU students thus far. Mainly, the position of citizens from European Economic Area (EEA) countries remains unchanged for the two years from 29 March 2017, the date when the UK gave notification of its intention to leave the EU.

However, the position for EU nationals in the UK after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU  is still being negotiated. UKCISA wrote that it will update the page after an agreement has been reached at government-level.

You can refer to the UK’s Home Office website for helpful, up-to-date and most importantly, official information regarding EU citizens’ status in the UK. Here, you can find information about settled status, employment, permanent residence, etc.

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