In June 2016, The United Kingdom voted for leaving the European Union, a decision that has shaken the British higher education sector. Two years have passed since the vote and international students still don’t know exactly how Brexit will impact them and their access to higher education in the UK. While there is still no clarity or certainty over what mode of withdrawal the UK will prefer as well as what relationship it will develop with the EU, the possibility of so-called hard Brexit should be considered. In this article, we outline seven ways in which Brexit might affect international students wishing to get a degree in Britain if the UK leaves the single market and customs union with the EU.
- Tuition fees
Alternatively to international students, EU students are treated by British universities as domestic students, meaning they enjoy such benefits as lower tuition fees and easier access to financial support. Well, the bad news is that this situation might change in the post-Brexit period. In the case of hard Brexit, the status of EU students would be changed to international students. In turn, as international students, EU nationals would have to pay much higher tuition fees than locals. Given the fall of the pound, however, the cost of studying in the UK for international students might gradually go down.
- Immigration status
If you are a non-EU student, you shouldn’t be worried about your immigration status as there will be no changes in the UK’s immigration policy on this front. Moreover, Brexit is anticipated to open up new possibilities for international students as the number of EU students in British universities is going to fall. To compensate for this decline, UK universities would most likely increase the share of international students from China and India. However, in 2012, the UK government changed its visa regulations and since then international students are obliged to leave the country almost immediately after receiving their degree. As an international graduate, you can still work in the UK after graduation if your employer is interested in you and pays certain out-of-pocket expenses. Getting a PhD is another opportunity for you to stay in the UK for an additional year and gain work experience.
- Academic quality
Academic quality is another potential implication of Brexit. According to the latest statistics, as much as 28% of all academic staff members in British universities are non-UK nationals. However, this number is inevitably going to decline, following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. This situation might result in a serious staffing crisis, which in turn would negatively affect the ability of British universities to prepare highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals. Given the upcoming changes to the UK’s immigration regulations and challenges faced by international students in securing jobs in the country, it is expected that the demand for education will continue to decline.
- Threats to scholarship
Although European students are currently eligible for financial aid in the form of scholarships and loans, Brexit might hamper their chances to get this help from the UK government. Furthermore, the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU might significantly limit those European students who are willing to get a degree in the UK through EU-based grant opportunities and mobility programmes such as Erasmus+. Finally, funding for research run through European schemes could also be cut in the post-Brexit period.
- Implications for non-EU students
Although the government and politicians reassure us that Brexit will have no implications for non-EU students, this may not be necessarily true. Remember that one of the main reasons behind the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was an immigration concern. So it is likely that the country’s immigration regulations would become more demanding and tougher. At the same time, Brexit could provide non-EU students with plenty of opportunity to get a degree in the UK. If the number of EU students falls significantly in the post-Brexit period, British universities will have no other choice but to more actively attract non-EU students by giving them preferential treatment. Only by adopting this strategy British universities can offset their financial losses caused by Brexit.
- Declining numbers of international students
While no-deal Brexit is expected to significantly limit EU students’ access to higher education in the UK, international students will not be affected by this decision, according to Theresa May. However, changes to the country’s immigration policy have offered golden opportunities to countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. These countries have a much simpler and easier visa regime as compared to the UK, which attracts many international students from China and India. In addition, these countries are more attractive for those international students who are willing to get a job abroad. In the case of hard Brexit, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand could be preferred not only by international students but also by European students who turn their back on UK universities. Hence, Brexit can contribute to the popularity of other study destinations, while making British universities considerably less attractive.
- Workforce shortages
Currently, many European students graduating from British universities are looking to work in the UK. As of February 2019, more than 2.27 million EU nationals were working in the country, making it one of the largest shares of EU nationals working outside the European Union. However, Brexit is more likely to significantly decrease these numbers as EU nationals would be obliged to apply for a work visa to continue working in the UK. In the case of no-deal Brexit, the country might see a serious workforce crisis since it can contribute to shortages of key staff. In addition, international students’ limited access to the workforce market would mean British employers’ inability to bridge talent and workforce gaps, which is clearly demonstrated by the National Health Service (NHS).
While these implications might follow Brexit, there is no need to panic and change your mind if you have decided to get your degree in the UK, at least for now. The government and politicians assure us that there would be no immediate impact of Brexit on international students’ status or access to higher education for the next two years or so.
Ellie Richards is an online Marketing Manager for Original PhD. She specialises in research, content and article writing on various topics, including Education, Marketing, and Technology.