Brexit and the future of international recruitment and enrollment in Great Britain
In 1900 the British Empire covered two-thirds of the world. By anyone’s estimation Britain today is a shadow of that former empire. The Great Britain of today, with its sixty-five million people and with the second-largest economy in Europe, is a divided nation with a shrinking influence in the world.
In 1973 Great Britain joined what was then called the European Economic Community. In 2017, 17.4 million British people, or fifty-two percent of voters, chose to take the country out of the European Union.
Between 2016 and 2017 the United Kingdom moved from being the fastest-growing major economy in the world to the slowest. Some of Britain’s economic growth can be attributed to its partnership in the European Union. The European Union is Britain’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 44 percent of all of Britain’s exports. And nearly 30 percent of all of the food imported into Britain comes from European Union countries. As a member of the European Union, Britain enjoys free trade and zero customs restrictions with the 27 other members. That will no longer be the case after Britain leaves the European Union.
Current government estimates indicate that the impact of the Brexit vote will make people worse off than before the vote was taken. In the Septrember20, 2018 issue of The Guardian, Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, warned cabinet members that leaving the European Union could cause an economic collapse in England similar to the 2008 recession. He called the level of risk “uncomfortably high.”
On March 29, 2019, Britain will leave the European Union with or without trade and customs agreements in place. On August 1, 2018, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, told his Australian counterpart: “At the moment we are heading for no deal by accident.” The director of the Asian Institute, Ian Bremmer, predicts that the U.K. will leave the European Union next March without an agreement in place. That will impact both sides, but the British people, he predicts, would be hit hardest.
Officials at the Bank of America, Airbus, Siemens and Jaguar have warned government officials that a hard Brexit exit may prompt them to shift operations out of the U.K.
It would be too simplistic to blame the current state of the country’s inward-looking and fearful view of the world on the vote to leave the European Union. The Brexit vote was a manifestation, not the cause, of the British people’s dissatisfaction with their government and their economy. Economic growth has been slow since 2015. The outsourcing of public services to incompetent private companies, the aftermath of the recession of 2008 that plunged Britain into a recession over which the British people felt they had no control, and regulations imposed on the British people by bureaucrats in both in London and Brussels all contributed to the referendum results in 2017.
The current administration’s lack of imagination and progress in resolving the issues related to the country’s exit from the European Union have created a sense of frustration and uncertainty throughout the country.
How will this situation impact international student recruitment and enrollment into British colleges and universities? Currently, international students contribute 22.6 billion pounds (29.9 billion dollars) to the country’s economy. There are 80,000 undergraduate European students and 50,000 European postgraduate students, or 30 percent of all international students, studying in Britain. These students will still be eligible to receive government-backed loans to cover their tuition and fees. Students beginning their studies in England for the 2019-20 academic year will also be charged the same tuition and fees as British students. There are no guarantees, at least none publicly stated, as to what will happen to European students wishing to study in Great Britain after 2020.
In the competitive market for international students, this uncertainty will likely result in fewer European students studying in Great Britain. Researchers at the Higher Education Policy Institute predicts that in the near future these numbers could decline by as much as 60 percent when Britain leaves the European Union.
There are other potential negatives, including:
17 percent of staff in U.K. universities are from European countries and their status to remain and continue teaching at their current universities, is unclear. In the past year more than 2,000 academics have resigned from posts at English universities.
The European Medicines Agency will relocate to Amsterdam when it leaves London in 2019. This agency brings financial and collaborative benefits to academics by supporting research projects. In an article published by World Education News, the author, Jan Petter Myklebust, reported that the Austrian Chancellor, Christian Kern, calculated that the Dutch economy stands to gain 1 billion euros (1.2 billion dollars) increase in revenue as a result of the move from England.
The uncertainty over Brexit has resulted in fewer employers recruiting graduates. One survey, reported in The Guardian, by Richard Adams and Sally Weale, revealed that several companies, including Goldman Sachs, Unilever and BP downgraded their hiring plans after the Brexit referendum vote. The same is true for accounting and professional services firms, financial services companies and investment banks.
I can’t leave this chapter without listing a few positive statistics and facts about higher education in Great Britain, including:
In March 2018, Great Britain was named the most popular city in the world for international students.
Chinese students constitute the majority of international students studying in England. One in five international students on British college and university campuses, are Chinese. There are over 100,000 Chinese students currently studying in England. Last year there was an increase of 18 percent in applications from China.
For the first time, the United Kingdom, not the United States, was the top destination for Turkish students.
There has been an increase in applications from students from Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Hong Kong, due to the drop in the value of the pound, making a British education more affordable for students from those countries.
While no one can predict with certainty what the future potential impact of leaving the European Union will have on British higher education, no one, I think, would disagree that higher education in Great Britain will change in the coming years.
Martin Sandbu, writing in the July 25, 2018 edition of Financial Times, wrote:
“It is reckless to expect the UK’s turmoil to be shortlived. Its partners in Europe above all, must hope for the best but plan for the worst. We will only know what sort of country Britain is when our UK friends have agreed what they want it to be.”
Wise words, not only for Great Britain as a whole, but for British higher education in particular.