Plonked in the midst of Brexit and all its twists and turns, is the UK still an attractive place to study for non-EU international students?
It’s March 2019, and the UK plans to leave the European Union very soon. According to a Forbes report, it is currently the second most popular destination for international students. In the middle of all the uncertainty lies the question: will Brexit have any effect on the circumstances and situations of these international students?
On one side, we stand in the middle of Brexit’s uncertainties, and the current administration has considered plans to limit immigration, including that of international students. On the other hand, it is now the middle of college application time for the United Kingdom, with hopefuls looking over universities and deciding which one they want to choose.
Ruth Page, International Officer at Cardiff University, doesn’t think that international students have a reason to worry.
“For non-EU international students, we don’t envisage there being any changes to circumstances. Obviously, we face lots of questions about Brexit when we travel to countries, made more complicated by the fact by nobody knows what’s going on,” she says. “We’ve been reassuring our applicants that fundamentally that your experience from enquiry to enrollment shouldn’t be changing at all.”
Ruth describes the past year, where due to the negative spin of Brexit events in the news, she received several questions from applicants about whether it was safe to enter the UK during the uncertainty. “They just wanted to make sure that they would be safe here,” she says.
She assures students that the university website now features pages outlining Brexit, so that the students can see what has been going on. The university’s Press and Communications team works with EU experts to react to any Brexit news and reassure applicants along the way.
According to the 2018 QS International Student Survey (which ranks universities across the world), only 10% of non-EU international students said that they are perturbed by Brexit when it comes to considering the UK as a place to study, attracted perhaps by the variety of courses offered, and the high rankings of several of the universities in the world.
From countries such as my home country of India, several students choose universities abroad with the help of agencies and overseas educational consultants, such as Edwise International. Every year, Edwise receives several students interested in applying to the UK for study. Asiya Banu, an agent of Edwise, says, “To us, the UK represents quality standard and specialization of courses which no other country offers.”
My mind goes back to June of 2018, when my very anxious parents and I sat with an offer letter from the United Kingdom, in hushed discussions with my consultant and the course director from Cardiff University, who would eventually turn out to be my teacher.
Offered an opportunity to get to know someone from the course and get our doubts cleared, we grabbed it with both hands. My parents threw questions at him: would there be tension and confusion there? Would her employability be assured?
The agents of Edwise had already educated me about my employability prospects and visa periods, but I was worried that Brexit would reduce the little I already had. It look a lot of convincing that as an international student, I would be valued, to get me to come.
It wasn’t until I got here that I realised that I wasn’t the only one who had taken the chance, because we believed in the UK despite Brexit.
“My choice of coming to study in the UK had nothing to do with Brexit. I more looked into the journalism program and what country it’s really strong in, and the UK seemed to be the best option for me,” says Sarah Jean Skaf, who is currently an MA International Journalism student at Cardiff University.
An International Place
According to the QS Rankings, four of the top six universities in the world are based in the United Kingdom. Colleges such as the University of Sheffield have an International College, so that they can better attend to the needs of the international students. These are possible reasons why international students could find the UK intriguing.
“For the way forward, in the university document which outlines the plans for the future, international growth is a huge part for that and we want to grow our international student numbers and international partnerships,” says Ruth.
“The UK is desperate to grow its international student base,” agrees Asiya.
Cardiff University has always been pro-international students, multiculturalism and diversity, having taken part in the visa pilot scheme in 2018, where postgraduate international students now get up to six months to remain in the UK and look for work after their course.
“Without knowing what Brexit looks like, I can’t make guesses on how the job market will look for anyone. It’s not a case of ‘Brexit’s happening, everything will go to chaos.’ The UK is still desirable as an education destination. The numbers of applicants haven’t changed,” says Ruth.
It is clear that in spite of Brexit, the UK is still a welcoming haven for international students.