The Brexit Impact on UK Universities Over Two Years On

3 min read

Fran Fitzsimmons

It goes without saying that student recruitment in UK universities has changed since Brexit two years ago.

While the impact of the UK leaving the European Union is still being felt by institutions across the country, a variety of new initiatives have been introduced to help mitigate the impact of Brexit on UK institutions.

EU visas drop applications by almost a fifth

One of the most significant changes to come from Brexit was the introduction of visas for EU students, which has made studying in the UK expensive and complicated. This has led to a drop in applications from EU students by almost a fifth.

Confusion surrounding regulations is also thought to have caused a drop in applications, even when not directly impacting a prospective student’s ability to study in the UK.

Prior to Brexit, EU students were able to come to the UK to study without the need for a visa. However, post-Brexit EU students now need to apply for a visa in order to study in the UK, which can be both costly and time-consuming.

Access UK-specific data and trends from our State of Student Recruitment report here

The University of Strathclyde reported a 5% decrease in applications to UK universities by EU students after 2016. When compared to other non-EU international student applications, the growth rate of EU applications dropped by 7%.

Some universities are reporting significant financial losses as a result, which impacts their ability to attract the best talent through their research grants – both with students and staff.

Student interest rises in Europe

Unsurprisingly, this has had a knock-on effect with many students choosing to study elsewhere in Europe where visas are not required.

Brexit has also caused uncertainty for staff at UK universities, with many feeling anxious about their jobs and their future in the UK.

In our latest State of Student Recruitment survey, the UK was voted as the top study abroad destination in data taken from over 20,000 prospective students. 17.9% of respondents voted the UK as their top destination.

However, 42.1% of prospective students said they were most concerned about VISA requirements and immigration.

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The government has tried to reassure EU nationals by introducing new visa rules in 2021, which allow PhD students who graduated in summer 2021 to stay in the UK for an additional three years.

"Stay in the UK after your graduate" scheme to boost interest

International students who graduate with an undergraduate or master’s degree can stay in the UK for two years.

The change in rules reverses a decision made in 2012 that meant overseas students had to leave four months after finishing their degree.

The University of Strathclyde has also found the Brexit effect has been hardest on applications for STEM subjects, which declined by almost 10 percent. This is particularly worrisome if this trend is shared across other institutions in the UK as it could have an adverse impact on science and technology research.

What can universities do to boost enrollment 

As UK institutions will continue to navigate the impact of Brexit in the long-term, it is important for UK universities to be proactive and take proactive measures to help reduce the potential impact on enrollment, such as attracting students from emerging markets or perhaps seeking out entirely new markets for their next intake.

To combat this trend and try and mitigate any impact on specific subject areas or research, universities could increase scholarships and funding for STEM programs or other programs adversely affected.

By creating a welcoming environment for students from all over the world and continuing to invest in campus infrastructure, UK universities can ensure that they remain global leaders in education.

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