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Easing the no-deal Brexit for UK universities

By thinking ahead, UK universities can turn the negative aspects of Brexit into positives. Source: Shutterstock

With the recent announcement that UK PM Theresa May is soon to step down and the widespread doubt surrounding a no-deal Brexit, a smog of uncertainty is clouding the minds of in- and outbound UK students.

But at the UUKi higher education forum held on March 27, British Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, Chris Skidmore, announced that, “Brexit may well mean that we are leaving the European Union soon, but it certainly does not mean that we are leaving Europe or, indeed, any of our global partnerships behind.” 

To counteract the confusion, the Minister also exclaimed, “If anything, Brexit means we now need to be thinking and acting more globally than ever before. Our world-leading universities and colleges are international at their core. Our higher education sector relies on – and indeed thrives on – international connectivity, collaboration and partnership, and I want to see all those things continuing to flourish.”

Despite being tenth on the list of no-deal concerns, the interest in Erasmus study abroad schemes and studying abroad at UK universities could still be salvaged by the notoriety of British education, investment in the international experience and, as Skidmore mentions, an emphasis on existing collaboration and partnerships.

But with these three powers at play, how can UK universities use them to their benefit and stand strong throughout the storm of no-deal doubt?

Maintaining the bridges of British education

Maintain the bridges that support British education up and running. Source: Mael Balland/Unsplash

Focused on boosting international student numbers and income, UK Education Secretary Damian Hinds recently reiterated that, “The UK’s education system is world-leading and its reputation is the envy of many countries around the globe.”

To amplify this point, International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP also acknowledged the global demand for the UK’s top-quality education offerings: “From English Language Training in Latin America to Higher Education partnerships in Vietnam, Trade Minster Graham Stuart and I have encountered a remarkable amount of enthusiasm for British education goods and services across the globe.”

With the number of British schools in China set to double in 2019 and the British education system proving to be “big business”, all is not lost.

Keen to promote the global reputation of British education system, Geoff Gladding, Senior Lead of the education team at the UK Government’s Department for International Trade (DIT) explained that, “UK education has never been more in demand or more highly spoken of around the world.

“From early years provision, schools and universities to the UK’s role in edtech, our offering across the whole sector is doing really well. Internationally the UK education system is seen as the gold standard.”

So, after the tumultuous storm of Brexit and the resulting shadows of doubt, UK universities must polish, promote and display the UK’s gold-standard education across marketing materials and university fairs to maintain consistency in international student enrolment. 

Furthering investments in international experiences

London, UK: People’s Vote March 2018. Source: Shutterstock

“Universities have managed to fill the vacuum as Britain has turned inwards and its global influence continues to wane, but the big question for us going forward is how do we maintain that global position despite government policy?,” outlined Baroness Valerie Amos, Director of SOAS University of London, in a recent University World News (UWN) report.

She also warned that “Our partners can see through the rhetoric for global Britain,” and believed it to be crucial that “we reframe how we think and don’t just see the world through a UK lens.”

A question many UK universities may be asking themselves is how can they maintain a global position when Brexithas the potential to destroy valuable EU ties?

A key way is to further their investments in international experiences and nurture connections with universities and academic bodies outside the EU.

Not only will this benefit the university’s reputation, it will also increase rates of student mobility.

Highlighted in the Gone International: Expanding Opportunities report by Universities UK International, “3.6% of graduates that went abroad were unemployed compared to 4.4% of graduates that didn’t.”

Additionally, the report states that students who study abroad are “19% more likely to gain a first class degree” and “10% more likely to be in ‘graduate’ jobs six months after graduation”.

That’s why the Support Study Abroad campaign by Universities UK has gained so much traction, recognising that once government funding is eradicated from study abroad programmes, “17,000 UK students will miss out on opportunities to study abroad next year.”

By thinking ahead, UK universities have time to create new international experiences and must strive to implement smart student mobility strategies.

Promoting existing collaborations and partnerships

Keep university fairs and networking events consistent. Source: Shutterstock

The third tactic lies in the promotion of existing collaborations and partnerships.

Positioned as a global source of education, many UK universities still have their cards in hand. Connections that stretch beyond the EU are extremely valuable and increased attention on existing collaborations will serve the institutions well.  

As it stands, the UK education sector generates around £20 billion per year through transnational activity and education exports, including income from international students.

With so many English language training providers and British international schools either being built or currently residing overseas, it’s difficult to predict whether the UK education system will fall out of fashion after Brexit.

But to ensure that it doesn’t, UK universities must listen to the what international student perspective on Brexit and make moves to reassure them before it’s too late.

QS Director of Marketing and Market Intelligence, Paul Raybould took to the stage at the the International Higher Education Forum (IHEF) 2019 in London on 27 March, sharing inside knowledge on why international students are less interested in studying in the UK since the announcement of Brexit.

Shared below, the top reasons QS sourced from international students are:

1) “I think the UK is less welcoming to students like me” (48.9%)

2) “I think it will be harder to get a visa” (47.2%)

3) “I think it will be harder to get a job when I graduate” (46.9%)

4) “It makes the UK a less financially viable option for me” (43.6%)

5) “I think Britain will be weaker outside of the EU” (41.1%)

Reflecting on these top five reasons, it’s imperative that UK universities keep their campus communities diverse and ensure all international students feel welcome.

They must keep current and prospective students updated through visa concerns and continue to advise their travel requirements to and from the UK.

They must keep a close eye on the efficiency of on-campus career centres and industry partnerships. By keeping connections tight, there’s a strong chance these networks will remain part of the university even after the Brexit boom.

So, while the UK may eventually leave the EU, hope and reassurance from UK universities must remain.

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