Since the UK is currently in the process of separating from the European Union (EU), the topic of Brexit has been dominating the country’s social, political, and economic landscape since its decision to withdraw. The UK higher education sector is no exception since Brexit creates considerable challenges for university leaders. There is still much ambiguity and uncertainty about the consequences of Brexit. Thus, it is unclear how the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU will affect international students not only from the EU but also from all around the globe, who are intending to get their degree in the UK. This impact predominantly depends on what kind of relationship the United Kingdom will develop with the EU in the post-Brexit period. With different possible post-EU arrangements in mind, Brexit can affect international students in a myriad of ways. In this article, we present the top five ways in which Brexit will influence international students in the UK.

1. Access to education services by EU students

Currently, EU students are treated by British universities in the same way as domestic students. This means that European students have access to loans and grants as well as lower tuition fees. However, this situation can change in the future if the UK leaves the EU’s single market and customs union. Given that around 30% of all international students in the UK are from the EU, Hard Brexit is considered to have a strong impact on the British higher education sector. In this case, EU students’ access to British universities would be significantly limited. This is due to the fact that the free flow of students from the EU would be heavily regulated by newly imposed immigration policies. As a result of this scenario, EU students would no longer be treated as domestic students, but as international students.

Alternatively to local students, international students pay significantly higher tuition fees, which would create additional barriers to those European students who want to study in the UK. Given that not all EU students have access to funding and loans for tuition fees, Hard Brexit could negatively affect the number of EU students coming to the UK for education. While European students starting university in the 2019/2020 academic year are still eligible for full financial support from the UK government, the extent to which EU students would have access to this kind of support in the post-Brexit period is unclear.

In a ‘Soft Brexit’ scenario, the UK will maintain its access to the EU’s single market. This means that students from the European Union would continue to be treated the same way as local students. In this case, British universities would not have to increase their composition of international students and lower the number of enrolments from home. In turn, EU students would maintain their access to lower tuition fees, which would allow a greater number of international students to apply for a Bachelor’s, Master’s, or a PhD course at British universities. However, there is still a high level of uncertainty on this matter as the UK’s withdrawal from the EU is due to 29 March 2019. Given that most universities in the UK have a stance regarding Brexit, it would be wise to read about a particular university’s view on their website. Some British universities promise European students who enrol prior to Brexit that their status regarding tuition fees will remain unchanged in the post-Brexit period.

2. A good opportunity for non-EU students

Although the full implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in higher education are yet to be explored, what we know exactly is that there will be no abrupt close-down for international students who are willing to study in the United Kingdom in the nearest future. If you are not from the EU, there will be no significant changes to your study plans in the UK. In the case of Soft Brexit, no changes are planned to the visa requirements, meaning you can continue getting your education if you are already a student of a British university. Those international students starting in the academic year of 2018/2019 are still eligible for full financial support, even if Brexit occurs during their course. While these short-term impacts provide some comfort for international students, the situation is likely to change after the adoption of new immigration law. The most recent UK immigration rules changes, for example, require international students who rely on student loans or funds from official financial sponsors to demonstrate that the funds are available to them on the date of application.

At the same time, in the case of Hard Brexit, the UK could become even more attractive to non-EU international students. In this situation, the country’s withdrawal from the EU will significantly limit its access to the single market. As a result, European students would have very limited access to British universities. In turn, the UK’s higher education establishments are expected to recruit as many international students as they can, to offset the financial challenges caused by Brexit. Given that the majority of Britain’s international students come from China, India, and Malaysia, they could be given preferential treatment by the UK’s universities. However, it is more likely that international students would have to pay more for education services in the UK to compensate for a sudden fall in the income of domestic universities. While these changes would make international students more lucrative, they are also expected to reduce tuition fees for local students.

3. Student Mobility

In 1987, the European Union established the European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, which is commonly referred to as the Erasmus Programme. This programme provides opportunities for around 5 million Europeans to train, study, and gain experience abroad. Erasmus+, an updated and enhanced version of the Erasmus Programme, is set to last until 2027. However, given that the UK is planning to leave the EU in March 2019, the UK’s participation in the Erasmus+ programme remains unclear. Nonetheless, many British universities, including the University of Cambridge, the University of Leeds, and the University of Nottingham promise their European students participating in the Erasmus+ programme in the 2018/2019 academic year will not be affected by Brexit, even in a ‘Hard Brexit’ scenario. Furthermore, it is expected that EU funding for programme participants will not be cut until 2021. However, future participation of the UK in the Erasmus+ programme remains unclear. This fact poses a certain challenge to EU students’ mobility and ability to enter higher education in the UK.

If the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, the government is planning to secure its continued participation in Erasmus+ until the end of the 2020/2021 academic year. At the same time, there is no information about how this guarantee will operate in practice. Being more precise, it is still unclear what terms and conditions will apply to both British and European students who participate in the Erasmus+ programme as well as who will fund the programme. Given that the ‘Hard Brexit’ scenario will limit the UK’s access to the EU’s single market, international students’ participation in the Erasmus+ programme could be the only affordable opportunity to get a degree in the UK. By contrast, mobility opportunities for these students could stop in their tracks if there is no adequate funding to the programme. If the UK government fails to negotiate association to Erasmus+, it will significantly limit international students’ mobility. Nonetheless, in the case of Hard Brexit, it would still be possible to establish an alternative mobility scheme.

4. Visa Regulations

As previously noted, in the ‘Soft Brexit’ scenario, no changes are planned to the visa requirements, meaning EU students could continue getting their education in the UK. In turn, European students would maintain their access to lower tuition fees and government grants and loans. At the same time, this situation can be completely different in the case of Hard or no-deal Brexit, which would mean additional challenges in the form of shorter stays allowed. Speaking more precisely, European students could be required to obtain a UK Student Visa, meaning they would have to comply with a set of additional requirements, including having enough money to fund themselves and their course and paying the ‘Immigration Healthcare Surcharge’ to have access to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Changes to the country’s visa regulations are also expected to have a direct impact on international students’ employment opportunities.

Similarly to European students, Brexit can produce a strong impact on non-EU students. One of the main causes of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU was an immigration concern. Hence, it is expected that the UK would strengthen its immigration regulations in the post-Brexit period. In turn, in order to cope with the negative financial consequences of Brexit, British universities would attempt to pull in more international students from such countries as China and India. However, high tuition fees, tough immigration policies, and student visa restrictions could make British universities less attractive to these students. For example, the visa regime in Australia is less bureaucratic in comparison with that in the UK, meaning international students who turn their back on the UK could be attracted by Australian universities. Given that Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian students form the largest share of Britain’s international student population, the UK’s shifts in the visa regime could be critical for its universities’ ability to attract international students.

5. International students’ access to work opportunities

Although the UK remains a popular destination for international students, the government’s willingness to reduce immigration is expected to have an adverse impact on these students’ access to employment opportunities. Securing a job after graduating from a British university is one of the major concerns for both EU and non-EU students. However, since 2012, fresh graduates are obliged to leave the UK almost immediately after receiving their degree. In the case of Hard Brexit, this situation could worsen as EU citizens would receive no preference over non-EU citizens who are looking to work in the UK. In this situation, local employers could miss out on promising, talented international graduates who could help them fill workforce gaps in technology, healthcare, and engineering. While the impact of Brexit on the UK’s economy is still widely debated, it is clear that the country’s intention to limit immigration has resulted in workforce shortages within the NHS. Hard Brexit would be a disaster for the NHS as around 30% of all its employees, including nurses and doctors are expatriates, and these employees will have to leave the country right after Brexit takes place. Thus, European graduates’ inability to stay in the UK and secure a job is expected to hit the NHS financially.

It is also expected that similarly to non-EU students, EU nationals would have to apply for a work visa to continue living and working in the United Kingdom after graduation. These changes to the UK’s immigration regulations are expected to significantly increase the number of unfilled specialist, technical, and healthcare jobs. Given that graduate roles dominate the market at 66% as compared to apprenticeships, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU could spark a serious workforce crisis, which would threaten its economic growth and development in a long-term perspective. However, the impact of Brexit on the graduate job market is yet to be discovered.

Since the UK is yet to leave the EU, there is still much uncertainty about the impact of this decision on international students, their access to funding, and employment opportunities. Two years have passed since the country first voted to leave but the future of Brexit remains uncertain. In the ‘Hard Brexit’ scenario, the access of both EU and non-EU international students to higher education in the UK would be significantly limited. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that European nationals would be allowed to stay longer in the UK after graduation, which would contribute to their chances to get a work visa and find a job.

Author Bio

Ellie Richards is an online Marketing Manager for Original PhD. She specialises in research, content and article writing on various topics, including Education, Marketing, and Technology.