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Is Brexit a Deterrent for MBA-Level International Students?

GMAC data underlines concerns over Brexit and any subsequent tightening of visa regulations among international students

Brexit is putting international business school applicants off studying in the UK, as they fear they won’t be able to obtain visas to study or work, highlighting the challenges UK business schools face as they enter a period of exceptional uncertainty.


45% less likely to study in the UK, in GMAC survey

In December 2016, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) surveyed 1,300 non-UK business school applicants about the Brexit vote. Some 45% indicated that Brexit has made them less likely to study in the UK.

A country-level analysis reveals that candidates in India are the most negatively influenced by Brexit, with 58% reporting that it has made them less likely to study in the UK.

GMAC launched a second survey on March 29, 2017, the day the UK triggered Article 50 — which allows it to unilaterally leave the EU — and it showed that a similar percentage of international candidates would be less likely to study in the UK.

GMAC’s data is the most compelling evidence so far that Brexit is turning international students of postgraduate business education away from the UK, which is one of the world’s most revered locations in which to study.

According to the most recent figures, immigration of students of all subjects has already fallen, by nearly a quarter, to 134,000 in the year to September 2016.

Business school applicants will be concerned that any tightening of the UK’s visa regime because of Brexit may make it more difficult for them to obtain student visas to study in the UK. The UK’s prime minister, Theresa May, continues to refuse to remove international students from a net migration target of about 100,000. The waters are muddied further by the UK’s upcoming general election in June.

London Business School says concerns have not translated into reduced application numbers

Helen Foley, senior manager for visa compliance at London Business School, said that although Brexit, “is giving cause for concern,” it is not translating into a decrease in applications from international students. “Although the visas might be a concern for some people, they are not the deciding factor when people are applying to business school,” she added.

But Brexit and any resulting clampdown on visas could make it more difficult for international students to secure the right to work in the UK when they graduate — one of the main reasons for studying there. The Tier 1 (post-study work) visa that allowed graduates to stay in the UK for two years to find jobs was abolished in 2012.

Now, employers have to sponsor international graduates to work in the UK. That is thought to have led to a sharp fall in the number of students flocking to the UK’s shores to study from India. One reason is that those of Indian nationality tend to have a strong preference to work in the countries in which they study.

Foley said: “London Business School hasn’t seen that [effect]. Close to 60% of our non-EU students last year chose to work in the UK. The fact that the government now requires employee sponsorship means there are bureaucratic hurdles, but that just means there is more paperwork.”

Yet career prospects may be dampened by the potential move of UK jobs overseas, with some of the largest global banks in the City of London planning to move up to 9,000 jobs elsewhere in Europe, as a result of the UK's decision to leave the EU.  

Universities have warned that Brexit and the resulting uncertainty will damage the UK’s standing as a global education hub, with funding for research potentially being cut and growing concerns around a potential exodus of talented EU staff leaving the UK for countries regarded as competitors.


There are some bright sides to Brexit, however. A study published in April by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford found that the fall in the pound’s value since Brexit has cut the cost of UK degrees by up to a fifth. But the same study found that the depreciation of the currency has made salaries in the UK less attractive to those who send money to friends, family and associates abroad.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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