Leaving the EU could have an impact on foreign students, studies suggest

by Ray Clancy on June 10, 2016

Leaving the European Union could make the UK a less attractive place for international students to study and could also lead to a brain drain with top graduates seeking work overseas, research suggests.

First, a report from the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) points out that students from EU countries are among the strongest performers in UK universities and suggests they are attracted to study in the country due to not needing a visa or a work permit.

They are more likely to earn a first class degree than their British colleagues and twice as likely to go on to post-graduate studies, the research found and it says that it is likely that Brexit would reduce the flow of these high performing students in a variety of ways.


New immigration rules, for example, could discourage students from taking up studies in the UK, or from remaining in the country after graduation and they would also likely face higher tuition fees.

“Understanding what Brexit would mean for EU domiciled students in higher education, and the knock on effects on the graduate labour force, is a complicated question,” the report explains.

“However, we can safely assume that the process of negotiating exit from the EU would create a period of significant uncertainty, complicate the procedures of recruitment for education and work, and could well make the UK a less desirable place to study during the period of transition,” it adds.

Secondly, a survey from education services consultants Hobsons which asked more than 10,000 foreign students for their views on the UK leaving the EU found that 47% said such a move would make the country less attractive to study in.

However, 17% said that they would find the UK more attractive outside of the EU, while another 35% said a British exit would make no difference to them.

But a breakdown of the figures shows that among the European students some 82% of said a Brexit would make the UK less appealing compared to 35% of non-EU students.

Referring to the nearly half of respondents who said a post-Brexit UK would be less attractive, Hobsons estimates that translates into more than 113,000 foreign students, about 50,000 EU students and another 63,000 from outside the EU, that could be put off studying in the country with a potential loss of international student fees of up to £690 million.

“For universities in the UK, the market is tougher than ever before, and growth can no longer be depended on,” said Hobsons EMEA managing director Jeremy Cooper.

“The UK higher education sector has faced major challenges but international students still represent a significant, strategic opportunity for UK universities. In terms of the EU, the results of this survey demonstrate precisely what scale the impact of the EU referendum could be felt on,” he added.

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