Brexit hits European interest in studying in the UK

Nearly two in five prospective students from within the European Union said they were less interested in studying in the United Kingdom because of Brexit and nearly one in three are not aware that students who start their course in 2018-19 would continue to pay the same fees as domestic students for the duration of their course, according to a new survey.

Against this, students from countries outside the EU, including Pakistan, Sudan, Ethiopia, China and Hong Kong, are significantly more likely to be interested in studying in the UK as a result of Brexit, largely due to the drop in the value of the pound, making UK education more affordable.

These are two key findings of the sixth annual International Student Survey by QS Enrolment Solutions – which claims to be the largest of its kind. The survey contacted 67,172 prospective international students from 191 countries who plan to study abroad, 28,020 of whom were considering studying in the UK.

The report of the survey calls on the UK government to work with universities now to develop a “comprehensive programme of engagement in key target markets to help promote one of the UK’s greatest exports, higher education”.

The survey found that giving international students a strong sense that they are welcome when they are choosing a university is crucial to maintaining the UK’s status as a top international study destination.

The degree to which a place feels welcoming is one of the most important factors influencing prospective students’ choice of country to study in, with 69% of respondents citing it as an important consideration.

Welcoming campaigns continue to be an effective strategy to combat the negative perceptions around Brexit, with 82% of respondents saying that campaigns like #WeAreInternational and #LondonIsOpen persuaded them that the UK is welcoming.

Welcoming campaigns are most effective with prospective international students from China (85%), India (85%) and Nigeria (83%).

Paul Blomfield MP, shadow Brexit minister and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Students, said: “A sensible government response to the challenges we face as the country leaves the EU would be to build on our strengths – and we have few greater assets than our university sector.

“We need to change policies and send a clear message around the world, along the lines of the #WeAreInternational campaign, which was launched in Sheffield. This report highlights its impact and we should take every opportunity to repeat its message to international students.”

Blomfield said the UK needs to learn from its competitors in setting out an ambition to build its share of the growing international student market, matched by a strategy to achieve that.

“That should start by taking international students out of net migration targets, to enable the new polices that are key to recruitment,” he said.

Future expectations for higher education

The survey report, Harnessing Opportunities in Global Higher Education, also shed light on how student expectations for higher education might be changing.

International students expect universities of the future to offer a very different experience to the universities of today where they envisage that the higher education sector will place far greater emphasis on digital delivery with most lectures being online.

Those surveyed also said they see a positive future for the sector with more institutions and more people going to university.

The top five characteristics selected when asked about how the sector could look in 10 years’ time were:
  • • Most lectures will be online.

  • • Students will be able to get a qualification from any university regardless of which country they live in.

  • • More people will go to university.

  • • Universities will be part of continuous learning.

  • • There will be more universities.
Andy Nicol, managing director of QS Enrolment Solutions, said: “As the changing political and socio-economic dynamics influence the views of potential applicants, universities should continue to listen closely to international students.

“Institutions that listen, adapt and differentiate their offer, while developing strategic approaches to international student recruitment, will harness the opportunities available within the global higher education market.”