Universities' push to undo Brexit's damage pays off - survey
University of Sheffield launched the #WeAreInternational campaign in 2013 - now more than 100 universities, education institutions and international organisations have backed it. Pic: University of Sheffield

Brexit’s effect in making Britain seem unwelcome to prospective students planning to study in the UK is now on the wane as efforts by universities and advocates to convince them otherwise are beginning to show results, a new survey reveals.

According to Hobsons’ 2017 International Student Survey (ISS), prospective students really care about how welcoming a place is to them when deciding which college to go to; 31 percent say it is the most important factor, beating factors like teaching quality, which came second.

“Campaigns like #WeAreInternational and #LondonIsOpen are having a positive effect in helping international students perceive the UK to be welcoming,” Jeremy Cooper, managing director of Hobsons EMEA, said in a press statement.

A big majority of respondents (84 percent) say campaigns like #WeAreInternational and #LondonIsOpen “positively persuaded” them that the UK is welcoming.

For its fifth annual survey, the international student recruitment consultancy surveyed more than 62,000 prospective international students from 196 countries, of which almost half (27,955) were considering UK as their study destination of choice.

This year’s findings show the majority (68.5 percent) of respondents saying Brexit made no difference to their decision to study in the UK.

The rest either said they were less interested as a result (12.7 percent) or more interested (11.3 percent) – a result researchers say paints “a more optimistic picture” of the relationship between Brexit and Britain’s higher education sector.

Hobsons’ report last year had about three times more (34 percent) students who were not already registered in UK universities saying they were less likely to do so because of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

But while this year’s results are more positive, Cooper says British institutions should not rest on their laurels –  there must be sustained efforts to keep the momentum of these campaigns. Brexit’s negative impact still exists among the student population.

Among those who said they would not or were less likely to study in the UK, 60 percent attributed this to a feeling that the country is now less welcoming to students from abroad. Other major concerns were the difficulty of getting a job as well as the financial viability of the UK for the respondents now.

One student said: “Prior to the decision I perceived the UK as open minded and warm towards foreigners. Now the view has shifted.”

As well as calls to sustain the current welcoming strategy now, the report also warns the UK’s higher education sector to take heed of how the “Trump Effect” is influencing the higher education industry across the pond.

Findings show that 22 percent of prospective foreign students are rethinking plans to study in the US, with a majority saying the UK is now more attractive compared to the US.

This finding echoes a study earlier this year that pitted the effects of US President Donald Trump’s election and the UK’s referendum to leave the EU on international students – in that poll, Trump was found to be more of a turn-off to foreign students than Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

What this means is that America’s loss can be Britain’s gain in the higher education sector, according to Hobsons’ report.

As the US as a study destination loses its appeal to prospective students from abroad, the UK can capitalise its position as the next largest English-speaking market to attract more students, provided it keeps up the welcoming campaigns.

“We believe that more can be done by universities, and by all of us with an interest in UK higher education,” Cooper said.

“By adopting the recommendations from this report … universities can achieve success and maintain the UK’s global leadership in higher education.”

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