The impact of Brexit is already taking its toll on international student enrollment in the UK, but there’s still a way to reverse the trend – by universities revamping their programme structures.
Data released Tuesday by QS Enrolment Solutions (QSES) shows that students are already turning away from the UK as a study abroad destination before Brexit has even kicked in.
According to the study, 39 percent of EU students and 10 percent of non-EU students claim that higher fees and the threat of an unwelcoming atmosphere post-Brexit has already put them off studying in the UK.
International students currently make up 19 percent of the undergraduate student community. In the 2015/16 academic year alone, they contributed a sizeable GB£22.6 billion (US$33.5 billion) to the UK economy.
But this will change if universities do not look towards alternative course structures.
Speaking now at @Policy_Exchange, Foreign Secretary @BorisJohnson says UK government does not want "to deter the international students" who make such a huge contribution to UK economy, according to @guardian @foreignoffice https://t.co/aaIi0TLPpn #Brexit pic.twitter.com/LRCHjX5Wj5
— British Council (@InsightBritish) February 14, 2018
The QSES data shows students expect to see more courses available online over the next 10 years, making it possible to remotely obtain a qualification from anywhere around the world.
This gives UK universities a unique opportunity.
International students may be turning away from Britain due to political change, but not because of worsening educational quality.
The fact remains that the UK is still second only to the US in higher education standings. So by moving courses online, institutions can sidestep messy policy changes and changing cultural attitudes and deliver what matters: world-class teaching and a globally respected qualification.
Online degrees have the added benefit of increasing the number of students who can benefit from the UK’s education system.
When universities are purely physical places, those who don’t have the money or support to uproot their lives for three years inevitably fall behind their more privileged peers.
Brexit often gets condemned as closing the opportunity for international students to study in the UK, but if universities moves online as a result, it could in fact increase the international access to education in the UK.
A move to online education would open accessibility to those who meet the admission criteria, who can afford the cost of tuition and who also have access to a stable internet connection. This would allow them to benefit from one of the world’s top education systems without having to overcome the barriers of student visa applications, plane tickets and high costs of living.
Not only would more online courses open up the academic opportunity to more people, it would also sidestep worries about tuition fees and malice they may be met with while studying in the UK.
Of course, though, there is much more to be gained from a university education in the UK than the qualification itself.
A recent report, ‘The Internationalisation of Higher Education: Developing Global Graduates’, found that employers primarily seek graduates equipped with international experience, while 75 percent of international students cited international experience and cultural integration among the most important factors to their education.
The cultural experience that comes from being immersed in British life is transformative and empowering for many international students.
Students coming from China will experience life outside an oppressive regime for the first time in their lives. Female students from Saudi Arabia will experience being treated as equal citizens. Every student will have the freedom to express themselves without the watchful eyes of their family and friends bearing down upon them.
If people simply earned their degrees by working from home on a laptop, these cultural experiences might be nothing more than theories in their set reading material.
But, it is understandable that the chaos of Brexit has raised concerns about the prospect of studying in the UK. No one has a potentially hostile reception and question marks about their human rights at the top of their study abroad wishlist.
So while UK universities can turn to online education to keep international enrollments up amidst Brexit and offer the chance to more students around the world, there’s the potential this will affect the quality of graduates and limit the influence UK culture can provide.