Anne May Janssen, Head of European Engagement at Universities UK International, speaking at the Brexit event
Brexit impacts considered at UK higher education event

Declining applications from across the EU, softening student attitudes and international education sector lobbying priorities were among the topics of discussion at a special Brexit conference hosted by Cambridge Assessment English in London, UK, last week.

For the one-day Brexit - one year later conference, Cambridge Assessment English (formerly Cambridge English Language Assessment welcomed delegates from university international offices for a programme featuring higher education institutions,  Universities UK, UK Visas and Immigration, the British Council, UCAS and other sector organisations.


In an update on Brexit negotiations, Anne May Janssen, Head of European Engagement at Universities UK International (UUKi) said the tone of the Brexit talks were generally positive whenever the topic turned to higher education, and she added that recent discussion of a transitional period from UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, had provided hope that current EU higher education funding programmes could be completed.


She said the association's current lobbying priorities were: securing the long-term residential rights of UK university staff from the EU; extending the current tuition fee level and loan access commitments for EU students to those commencing in 2019/20; and continuing participation in the Horizon 2020 research programme until its completion.


Mark Wilson, International Market Manager at UCAS, the admissions service for UK higher education programmes, said that while the 2016 applications and acceptances through UCAS from EU students were record peaks, there have been major declines in the current academic cycle.


He said that as of the March stage in the application cycle, applications from the EU had decreased by six per cent compared with the same period of the previous year.


Focusing on individual markets, he said that the previous growth trajectory of Spain and Poland had stalled in the current academic cycle, while applications from France (-two per cent), Germany (-10), Italy (-10) and Romania (-15) were among the major markets decreasing as of the June 30 application deadline. Only Lithuania had showed a significant spike in applications, he added.


In an analysis of loan dependency from European markets, he showed that Eastern European nations such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia and Lithuania had the highest rates of take up of UK government loans for undergraduate study, but highlighted that Germany and France - traditionally two of the largest EU recruitment markets - were among those with the lowest dependency on loans.


In a special StudyTravel Magazine survey of EU-based agents on the one-year anniversary of the referendum this summer, 98 per cent of participants working in higher education said they thought higher tuition fees and loss of access to loans would negatively impact on recruitment.


However, Paul Raybould, Director of Marketing and Market Intelligence for QS Enrolment Solutions (formerly Hobsons), used data from the most recent International Student Survey to show that negative attitudes towards Brexit had softened over the last 12 months.


He showed that in a survey conducted shortly after the referendum vote in 2016, 36 per cent of EU-based students said they were less likely to study in the UK as a result of Brexit, a figure the decreased to 15 per cent in this year's questionnaire. He added that some non-EU students - most notably Chinese and Saudi - said they were more likely, mostly as a result of the weakened pound sterling.


Of the EU students that have been dissuaded from studying in the UK, 'less financially viable' and 'less welcoming' were the most commonly cited factors.


In a panel discussion on the impact of Brexit on recruitment of EU and non-EU students, Nicolae Pavel, Assistant Director of the International Office at the University of Bedfordshire, said, "The messages from my agents are that students don't feel comfortable," and added that the UK was facing increasing competition from Canada and other EU destinations.


Martin Hookham, Head of International Office at the University of Sussex, said that the UK sector was reliant on the EU and vice versa, so he was hopeful that common sense would prevail in Brexit negotiations, while Helen McMillan, Regional Director for Europe at the University of Edinburgh, commented that universities needed to think a little more creatively about recruitment and what could be done to make institutions more attractive.


Most panellists agreed that non-EU applications were up in the current year, at least partly as a result of the cheaper pound sterling.


The event was organised as part of Cambridge Assessment English's 'International Admissions and Recruitment' series.



By Matthew Knott

News Editor