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Brexit – The New University Challenge

Great Britain is a destination location for the global student community. And for good reason – it is home to some of the most progressive and influential seats of learning in the world. Mention the University of Oxford or Cambridge University to people in the US, Asia or the Middle-East and automatically associations of excellence and aspiration come to mind.

And it’s not just limited to these elites; UK higher education continues to excel on the global university map. Take look at the most recent World Education Rankings and see three UK institutions in the Top 10 and countless others throughout the list.

This is why the uncertainty of the Brexit vote and the potential on the UK’s higher education sector is hard to bear. After centuries of brand building and in more recent times’ highly complex international web recruitment strategies has the leave vote pulled the rug on student recruitment teams? When it’s crucial to maintain the United Kingdom’s position in an increasingly competitive higher education sector, is this outcome counter intuitive?

Higher Education leaders voice their concerns

On the Monday before the vote, heads of 103 universities issued an impassioned open letter expressing their concerns about the impact of a LEAVE vote on their universities and students.

As quoted in the Independent, the signatories stated:

“Every year, universities generate over £73 billion for the UK economy - £3.7bn of which is generated by students from EU countries, while supporting nearly 380,000 jobs. Strong universities benefit the British people - creating employable graduates and cutting-edge research discoveries that improve lives.”

Alas, it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. However it must be noted that 75% of 18 to 24 year olds voted to remain. It’s too early to fully understand the impact of the vote but it’s important to understand the numbers. According to a recent Times Higher Education article, the impact could be real and alarming:

  • Non-UK EU nationals represented 6.4 % of all full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students at British universities last year
  • Nearly 13% of all full-time University College London students are non-UK EU domiciled

Will the UK lose these students? The article also alludes that the UK has just become less competitive for Non-UK EU nationals as the cost of studying in the UK would become prohibitively expensive for many EU students, since there would be no legal basis for not charging them the same fees as international students from beyond the EU, which are often much higher.

It is however argued by Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education policy Institute that the impact isn’t as damning as the vice-chancellors feared. His assertion being that UK universities haven’t necessarily targeted EU students as aggressively as suggested. With student number controls i.e. caps on the number of students an institution can accept it makes more financial sense for them to target the ‘higher ticket item’ i.e. international students outside the EU that pay significantly more for their place.

Brand United Kingdom

It is too early to fully understand or appreciate the impact of the referendum. The UK’s leadership (or current one) hasn’t indicated when they’ll press the button and invoke Article 50 and begin the exit process. There are no known timelines and the global community watches on. 

But has brand Britain taken a hit? We know the currency and stock markets have hit the floor. But beyond that has the United Kingdom suffered from the perception and in some cases the vocal assertions from the ‘Vote Leave’ platform that Britain is full and wants ‘No More Immigration’. Will Non-EU students e.g. Indian or Chinese students distinguish between whom the UK wants and doesn’t want? Will they take their money to other markets? The US is omnipresent in the World Education Rankings and is a highly desirable option for students that are ‘shopping around’. The Middle-East and Asia are pumping billions into their higher education sector with a view to attracting international students.

What’s next for Great Britain’s higher education sector? Is it all a storm in a tea-cup or has this vote laid the foundation for a genuine student recruitment minefield?

Let us know your opinions. Oh and don't forget to complete our 3rd annual Higher Education Web Survey.  There are AMAZON Vouchers up for grabs. 

Tagged: Brexit, Student Recruitment

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