How will a no-deal Brexit impact international students?

How will a no-deal Brexit impact international students?
39 percent of EU international students who participated in the 2018 QS International Student Survey (ISS) reported they are less likely to study in the UK due to Brexit. Source: Shutterstock

Brexit is undoubtedly one of the most controversial political moves of the 21st century. With experts predicting adverse effects in every sector of the British economy, from housing to the price of groceries, Brexit’s potential implications have skyrocketed tensions.

Theresa May’s recent call to extend the Brexit deadline until June 2019 only complicates the already turbulent Brexit negotiations. Although the UK parliament has already rejected May’s deal twice, she is expected to present the same deal for a third time.

If parliament rejects the deal again and May’s extension request is rejected by the EU, the UK will exit the EU as scheduled on 29 March 2019 – without a deal.

What will this mean for international student enrolment and UK higher education at large?

Fast facts:

Crunching the numbers

Currently, the UK is the world’s second-most popular study abroad destination – and the fifth-most expensive. That may change following a no-deal Brexit.

Surprisingly, though, the 2018 QS International Student Survey found that nearly two-thirds of prospective international students said Brexit wouldn’t affect their interest in studying in the UK. Only 14 percent reported that they were less likely to study in the UK due to Brexit.

It is important to note, however, that this metric includes students from non-EU countries, too.

Brussels, Belgium. 25th Nov 2018. British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during a press conference following the extraordinary EU leaders summit to finalise and formalise the Brexit agreement. Source: Shutterstock

International students from EU countries remain skeptical, with 39 percent reporting they are less likely to study in the UK due to Brexit.

Students from non-EU countries seem less perturbed, with just 10 percent reporting indifference to Brexit in relation to their study plans.

While these findings are somewhat surprising, they merely reflect the uncertainty of Brexit’s full effect on the British economy: “One possible explanation for the stability…of these results is that few concrete decisions have been taken – with regards to international and EU students – during the last 12 months.”

What is worrying, though, is that 38 percent of younger international students – aged 15 to 19 – are already apprehensive about studying in the UK due to Brexit. These students will start university in a few years’ time, after Brexit potentially increases the cost of tuition.

Making sense of the statistics

In the 2017-2018 academic year, 217,055 international students studied in the UK. Of those, 161,020 were non-EU, while the remaining 56,035 were presumably from the EU.

Let’s break down those statistics using the ISS findings as a guide, doing so in an effort to predict the effect this will have on international student enrolment and UK higher education in general.

Thirty-nine percent of EU students roughly equates to a potential loss of 21,854 international students – and more than £202 million in tuition fees (Provided that EU students are still eligible for the ‘home fee’ of £9,250 per year after 2020. Should these fees increase following a no-deal, the loss will be more substantial.).

Ten percent of non-EU students equates to a potential loss of 16,400 students, according to the ISS report – and £250 million in tuition fees.

In essence, should these ‘at-risk students’ decide not to study in the UK due to Brexit, UK universities could lose as much as £452 million in tuition fees.

These figures don’t account for the significant contributions international students make to the British economy, nor do they include future students planning to study in the UK.

Residence rights

The good news is that individual UK universities can, in theory, choose whether to increase tuition fees for EU students. Immigration, however, is another matter.

EU citizens who already permanently reside in the UK will retain their rights under the EU Settlement Scheme.

In the event of a no-deal Brexit, free movement would end ‘as soon as possible’. Those looking to settle in the UK following Brexit will need to apply for European Temporary Leave to Remain, which will grant them residence rights for up to three years.

To extend their residency, EU citizens in the UK will then need to apply for permission using a forthcoming skills-based immigration scheme, the details of which have yet to be released.

Research opportunities

“We have just weeks for the UK government and parliament to find a way to avoid a no-deal scenario. Without this, it is no exaggeration to suggest that this would be an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take our universities and our country decades to recover.”

Writes Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Liverpool and President of Universities UK. Academics all over the UK are anxious about the negative implications Brexit will have on tuition fees and research grants.

London, United Kingdom – July 2, 2016: March for Europe. Following the close result in the recent referendum in the UK, the 48 percent marched today to call for a resolution of the issue. Source: Shutterstock

Research funding is projected to fall by a whopping £1.2 billion in the event of a no-deal. This will not only impact the UK’s reputation as a world leader in life-changing research initiatives, but it may also decrease the quality of life for the individuals who benefit from such research.

Last year, the European Research Council (ERC) awarded the UK more money in Advanced Grants compared to any other country – totalling more than €155 million.

Universities UK is calling on the government to either protect the UK’s eligibility for the ERC grants or clarify an action plan to secure alternative funding:

“Without clarity very soon vital research could be disrupted which would be hugely damaging to people’s lives. The UK also risks losing some of our brightest minds to other countries, if they don’t know how their research will be progressed.”

Looking ahead: how a no-deal Brexit might affect UK higher education

A no-deal Brexit has the potential to cut EU student enrolment by as much as 39 percent. Brexit’s impact on the housing market and general economy could also significantly increase cost of living for international students. Additionally, a significant decrease in research funding may harm the UK’s glittering reputation as a global leader in life-changing research initiatives.

However, even though tensions continue to skyrocket as the Brexit date creeps closer, it’s important to stay calm. Although the predictions seem grim, they are just that – predictions. While the majority of international students currently seem unconcerned about Brexit’s effect on the British economy, the true impact will not become clear until the UK has officially exited the EU.

In the meantime, consider this quotation from 21 Lessons from the 21st Century: “Panic is a form of hubris. It comes from the feeling that one knows exactly where the world is heading.” – Dr Yuval Harari, History Professor at the University of Jerusalem

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