International students: ‘Brexit makes UK less attractive’

A survey carried out by Studyportals between 15 and 22 March 2019 of 1,418 international students looking to study for an English-language taught degree abroad shows that of 300 European Union or European Economic Area (EU/EEA) respondents, 63.7% considered the United Kingdom “less attractive” as a study destination because of Brexit.

Of the more than 1,100 non-EU/EEA students, only 21.3% consider the UK a “less attractive” study abroad option.

The main attraction of UK universities is their international reputation and quality of education. The cost of living and tuition fees were cited as the two main reasons for not choosing to study in the UK by both EU/EEA and non-EU students.

EU/EEA students are pessimistic about the ease of travel and the possibility of work after studying in the UK after Brexit.

The findings of the study were presented at the International Higher Education Forum (IHEF) 2019 in London on 27 March, organised by Universities UK International.

Despite the findings, the UK remains the top study destination being considered, with 37% of EU/EEA students looking to study at UK universities; ahead of 14% considering the Netherlands and 8% opting for Germany. Of the non-EU students, 18% are looking to study in the UK, just ahead of 17% considering Canada and 16% Germany.

Thijs van Vugt, director of analytics and consulting at the global study choice platform Studyportals, said: “There are a number of concerns that marketing must tackle among students looking to study in the UK after Brexit, such as difficulties of travelling to the UK, whether students will need a visa and post-study work opportunities.

“A surprising result was that there is a lot of interest among EU/EEA students in studying European law and European studies at a UK university.”

‘Softening of views’

The i-graduate International Insight organisation has also been seeking views about Brexit from international students already studying abroad.

Over the three years from 2016 to 2018, their International Student Barometer found a ‘softening’ of student views on Brexit, with the percentage of EU students saying that the UK leaving the European Union would have made them less likely to study in the UK coming down from 55.8% in 2016 (just after the referendum) to 50.6% in 2018.

For non-EU students, the percentage saying Brexit would make them less likely to study in the UK went down from 19.4% to 15.4% over the three years.

Nic Mitchell is a British-based freelance journalist and PR consultant who runs De la Cour Communications and blogs about higher education for the European Universities Public Relations and Information Officers’ Association, EUPRIO, and on his website. He also provides English-language communication support for Norwegian, Czech and UK universities and specialist media.