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Brexit and Rising Student Fees: Will International Students Still Be Attracted to Britain?

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Our latest QS report,‘Is Brexit Turning International Students Away From the UK?’, derived from the analysis of interviews which took place in cities across Europe, saw the emergence of several key themes among perceptions of post-Brexit UK as a study destination.  One theme that stood out as particularly contentious was the role of money in higher education. Concerns about finances wound their way through many of our participant’s views, and in many different contexts.

For students, one defining benefit of the UK being part of the EU has been the reciprocal fee agreements between EU member states, which enable EU citizens to study in countries throughout Europe for the same price as domestic students. In the likely event that the UK no longer benefits from these agreements post-Brexit, then students from the EU studying in the UK will start being charged the same amount as international (i.e. non-EU) students, which are normally considerably higher fees. Read more

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What can British Universities do to Reassure International Students That They Are Still Welcome in the UK?

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An uncomfortable truth we uncovered in our latest QS report, ‘Is Brexit Turning International Students Away From the UK?’, was that for some students, the events on the 27th of June 2016 and the press coverage surrounding the EU referendum result all pointed towards a major red flag; Britain is no longer welcoming to immigrants. In turn, this view has fostered a sense amongst some international students that they too are unwelcome in the UK. Students have cited the spike in hate crimes in the UK following the Brexit result to back this up, and some even held the opinion that British people were caught up in a wave of xenophobia.

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The Wider Benefits of International Higher Education in the UK

More people are studying for a British degree outside the UK than within it. But how good a time are they having?

A new initiative from the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency and the British Council (the soft power arm of the British government) is intended reassure overseas students of UK qualifications of the experience they will receive. At the moment, it consists mainly of a memorandum of understanding and an agreement to share information, apparently with few powers of enforcement. It remains to be seen how it will be tested by a future case of student unhappiness with a British higher education offering, or how it will cope with a major crisis which involves the risk of reputation damage to UK higher education as a whole.

Concern about the quality of UK higher education delivered abroad is partly driven by the government’s interest in expanding this form of provision. There is continuing political warfare in the current UK coalition government over the number of visas to be issued to international students. Taking their fees while they get a British degree without leaving home is seen as one part of the solution.

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New funding for UK postgrads?

UK postgraduate education is critically dependent upon international students, but risks severe damage if overseas demand falters.

This is a key conclusion of the first report from the Higher Education Commission, a new UK body with cross-party political support and backing from the British university sector.

Since 1999, the number of postgraduate students from outside the European Union at British universities has grown by more than 200 per cent. The figure for UK and other EU students is just 18 per cent.

This growth has been made possible, says the Commission, by a big increase in international funding for study in the UK. For example, the Brazilian, Chinese and Saudi Arabian governments all put significant sums into sending students abroad, and the UK is a favourite destination.

One UK university vice chancellor told the Commission that postgraduate provision in subjects such as medicine and electronics would not be feasible without income from foreign students.

This raises two big problems. One is that overseas demand could dry up, making much UK of the UK’s postgraduate provision uneconomic. Improved offerings in China and elsewhere could reduce the numbers of postgraduates coming to the UK.

The other issue is that in its present form, UK postgraduate education does too little to expand the skills of the UK’s own workforce.

One way to increase domestic demand for postgraduate education would be to make government funding available for postgrads. However, this would be a big step at a time of falling government spending.

At the report’s launch event in Parliament, Graham Spittle, chief technology officer of IBM Europe and chair of the inquiry, called for a government review of ways to get more money into UK postgraduate education. This could involve a blend of public and private lending. At the moment, most postgraduates have to fund themselves, or get money from friends, families or employers.

Spittle also pointed out that current government plans to reduce immigration threaten this successful area of the British economy. At the moment, students are counted as immigrants even if they do not want to stay beyond their study period. This means that political pressure to reduce immigration threatens universities’ ability to bring in students.

In addition, the Commission notes that UK has made it harder than before for students to work in the UK after completing their course. This makes it less likely that the UK will benefit from educating them.

David Willetts, UK science and universities minister, told the event that while the idea of government funding for postgraduate education is an appealing one, such cash would come with a political cost. He said: “As soon as the Exchequer is contributing, it has a legitimate public interest in how the money is being used. That can get fraught.”

This is the first of a planned series of Higher Education Commission inquiries. The next may look at private sector higher education.

The report is at http://tinyurl.com/6wtdo9h. John O’Leary, a member of the Advisory Board for the QS World University Rankings, is a member of the Commission.