Carmen Neghina

International students react to Brexit


Brexit and international students StudyPortals opinion poll

It has been a chaotic month, with the UK voting to leave the EU in a referendum. The decision has widespread consequences for the country’s politics, economics, but also its place in the international education landscape. The university sector in Great Britain has been shocked by the results after campaigning for the previous year to support the Remain campaign and warning about possible Brexit consequences. With 75% of young British adults voting to remain, British students are also very concerned about what Brexit means for their future. Brexit has left Britain without a government or opposition, a leadership void, and vague directions about the future of the country.

What do students studying abroad or being interested in studying abroad think about Brexit?

StudyPortals, the biggest global platfrom to find and compare international education conducted a survey  amongst its users  to find out why they either support the leave or remain campaign, their most pressing concerns, as well as the influence leaving the EU would have on the quality of British education. The survey also asked for the expected impact on the costs (tuition fees) for international students within the UK, as well as for British students within the EU. We received a staggering 1,500 replies, with students around the world taking a stance on this antagonizing issue.

Some key insights:

  • British students are rather concerned at the moment about their future
  • EU students are concerned about the increase in tuition and visas for traveling to the UK for their education
  • Non-EU students see a silver-lining in equal access to British university places, and trade potential increase with non-EU countries
  • The quality of British education is unlikely to be affected by Brexit.

Why did students want the UK to remain?

British students

For British students, the choice was not always black and white, although 75% would have wanted the UK to remain within the EU. Their reasons varied from wanting to preserve the freedom of movement within the EU, ensuring better job prospects, as well as wanting to achieve prosperity within the European Union. British students were convinced that staying in the EU is better for the scientific community, and will provide extra funding to the UK education system while promoting overall stability. Of course, within the EU, the UK has benefited from cheaper fees and easier traveling and have been able to set common goals and share a purpose with other countries within the EU, as well as benefited from a free exchange of culture and ideas. Politically, British students saw the UK as stronger within the EU, and as a potential safety net in times of economic meltdowns.

“I believe in a world free from borders. I believe in human rights.”

(British student, studying at Maastricht University, the Netherlands)


“We are stronger together. It is the responsibility of the strongest to help the weakest. I am European – it is a great privilege to belong to a unity of diverse countries. I can choose to go to any European university and it remains an affordable proposition.”

(British student, considering studying at the Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands)


“The main benefits for me [of the EU] as a student is the close ties the UK’s industries have within the EU allowing for greater opportunities to travel and work with the benefits of a British citizen.”

(British student, University of Huddersfield, UK)

British students did still have concerns about the European Union. However, they still believed that remaining was the better outcome:

“I realise that the EU has many problems, but anything worth doing takes time and hard work. Why should it be simple? Talking together productively and trying to accommodate each other and tolerate differences is the way forward. Walking away is simplistic, it doesn’t solve problems.”

(British student, considering studying at the Delft University of Technology, the Netherlands)

EU students

With over 125,000 European students enrolled in British universities currently benefiting from the UK being part of the European Union, the choice was rather simple: 92% of them would have wanted the UK to remain a member of the European Union. Among their reasons were the belief that the UK leaving would set a precedent and lead to the collapse of Europe as we know it. Furthermore, European students brought up the larger issue that the EU needs to work together to solve, such as environmental changes, radicalisation, economic threats.

Furthermore, they wanted the UK to stay and have more say in European and international negotiations, to make the EU a better and more organized institution, and ensure better trade and business opportunities, as well as ensuring security within the EU. Of course, more immediate issues were also important to European students, such as the lack of visa requirements within the EU, freedom of movement, political stability, and of course the ease of studying abroad within the EU and preferential EU tuition fees.

“I believe that the good thing about EU is the co-operation between countries. We can help eachother out, but to do thins we must not control each others countries, but respect our culture differences and values. If we do this we can learn many things that will benefit us individually but also as a whole.”

(Danish student, Bournemouth University, UK)


“It’s in the UK’s best interest to maintain close bonds with the EU project, because it’s the only way to make it work. If you’ve accepted it for so many years, you must have had good reasons to do so, mainly economical ones. If the UK chooses to leave the EU, not only you’d have damaged its economy and integrity (which does affect you too), but you’d also create a precedent, potentially wasting all the hard work and the investments that were made in order to make Europe a better place to live as well as a world power. These are hard times for everybody; things are bound to get better if we stick together and we help each other out. I don’t think either the EU or the UK will be better if they decide to part ways, but the people will choose, ultimately. Let’s hope for a wise choice.”

(Romanian student, considering studying at the University of Greenwich, UK)


“Remaining a member of the EU would be very beneficial for students in other EU countries, this would not only be beneficial for the students who wish to study in a top level university (as the UK has a number of top 100 in the world universities) but also for the universities since internationalism is a key feature in top universities, something very important for example in the university rankings.”

(French student, considering studying at the University of Cambridge, UK)

Non-EU students

Non-EU students were also predominantly “remain,” with 75% of them preferring the UK to continue being a member of the European Union. Most students outside the EU wanted the United Kingdom to remain due to the ease of trade, stability of its currency and the goodwill they can get from the UK in addition to the better anti-terrorism efforts that the EU provides. Some students thought that it would be silly for the United Kingdom to walk away from one of the major trade markets in the world and that emerging countries cannot make up a similar trade level in a short-term. Ease of travel for non-EU students was also a high priority, in addition to the enhanced collective security of the Euro-zone. In the eyes of non-EU students, the UK has a stronger voice in international politics than outside it.


“Henry Ford Quote : Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”

(Zimbabwean student, considering studying at theNew York University, USA)


“The EU, certainly presents a larger market, free of custom constraints by being a member. Leaving the European Union imposes these constraints with attendant costs to business, particularly SMME’s, in the short to medium term. Britain’s voice on world affairs shrinks further away from the epicenter of events. I would rather Britain remain, help to moderate the excesses the EU beaureaucracy, reform, cut back interferences by largely a remote parliament and administration from Brussels, returning power thereby to States. Federalisation of the EU certainly is not to be allowed giving the differin ideologies and political persuasions governing many EU States. Britain should remain in the EU. Its voice is still important in world affairs, made stronger in the EU than outside it.”

(Nigerian student, considering studying at SOAS, University of London, UK)

“The entire point behind the EU was to back everyone up when they needed it most. Now, when a few of the members are struggling, is what the whole institution was created for. If the United Kingdom falls on hard times (a very likely occurrence), no one will support them when they need it most, because the United Kingdom chose not to support those around them in times of need. This is a time where we must apply the golden rule that we all learned in our elementary years. We must support the Union through hardships because we want to be supported by the rest of the Union in our hardships. In order to take, one must give. Maybe this is not a beneficial plan to the United Kingdom in the very beginning. Yes, it’s going to take some time before the UK is able to reap its rewards; but not staying in the European Union would be the equivalent of never planting the seed.”

(American student, considering studying at University of British Columbia, Canada)


“Apart from the benefits you gain as a country with respect to business with other EU members, you could get help from other nations in times of trouble or natural disasters. As a member nation, it makes it easy for foreigners to easily come and study peaceful and this also promotes peace between nations in the world.”

(Ghanaian student, considering studying at University of Toronto, Canada)


“Being one of the founder members of the Eutopian Union it is very key that UK remains a member to help maintain the strength of the union. It is also likely that once UK leaves the union even other nations that subscribe to it may leave. UK still has strong and important ideas to share with and development the union especially putting in perspective the would be political and security impact to the rest of the world.”

(Ugandan student, interested in studying at the University of Basel, Switzerland)

Why did students want the UK to leave?

British students

While most British students wanted the UK to remain, the ones that opposed the European Union membership did so in the hope for better education and job opportunities for British people, as well as a higher standard of living. Border control was also a rather popular reason, but mostly as a means of decreasing the pressure on housing, or of increasing wages. British students also wanted to see an increase in trading with emerging markets around the world.

“Control over our borders, and more control over our laws without having to meet the European law standards. Not having to pay a money to be in the union, as other countries don’t pay as much as us.”

(British student, considering studying at the University of East Anglia, UK)

Reasons included:

“Control of national policies and resources, more freedom upon political, economic and social decisions, more investment in our land, recovery of national identity.”

(British student, considering studying at The University of Edinburgh, UK)

British students that wanted the UK to leave were also concerned about the possible trade embargoes that Europe would impose as the punitive measure, having to deal with criticism about the decision from Germany and France, as well as the potential loss of job opportunities. Other were more optimistic:

“There are no concerns. Britain is strong and has the commonwealth to trade with, so if Europe does not want to trade with us it is their loss.”

(British student, Middlesex University, UK)

EU students

The few European students that wanted the UK to leave mentioned that the UK would be better off outside the EU by not paying money to the EU, by gaining better control over their own interests and having less European bureaucracy.

“England has a strong financial status, while Europe is a victim of non-elected politicians that cut the pie in unfair ways and use business policies at human rights.England is closer to democracy right now comparing to the German emperor of euro zone. Import and export in EU are controlled by unfair laws for many countries, while England has free trade. England is organised and less corrupted than the heads of Europe. Brexit could lead to further reactions good for many weak countries in EU.”

(Greek student, considering stuying at the University of London, UK)


“Leaving the EU would result in an immediate cost saving as the country would no longer contribute to the EU budget. Under EU law, Britain cannot prevent anyone from another member state coming to live in the country – while Britons benefit from an equivalent right to live and work anywhere else in the UK. The result has been a huge increase in immigration into Britain, particularly from eastern and southern Europe.”

(Maltese student, considering stuying a the University of Manchester, UK)

Non-EU students

While only 25% of non-EU students wanted the UK to part ways with the EU, their reasons were quite varied, including better economic stability and autonomy, similar to those in the USA, Australia, as well as opening up the country to new trade partners around the world without being tied by union obligations. Non-EU students expect an increase in the value of the pound in the longer term, as the move would increase the sense of responsibility and productivity. Other reasons were rather

“1. Regains sovereignty. Meaning EU laws will no longer be primary over domestic laws 2. The UK will be able to plan and guarantee its social services without looking over its shoulder in an attempt to plan for immigrants. 3. It will apply its own domestic and international law on refugee status determination. No need to go with the EU flow.”

(Zambian student, interested in studying at the University of Bristol, UK)


“According to IMF data of biggest economies of EU, United Kingdom is in the second place after Germany so that means it’s better than other states. Countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia are also part of the EU, so with the right of freedom of movement their citizens can work and study in the UK just like British people. In their perspective that’s good but I don’t see any benefits for the UK since their HDI is also too lower than the UK. Finally, the UK has its own visa policy which is not valid for Schengen Area (for non-EU citizens). Their money currency is also different than EU, so the differences are a lot and, in my opinion, the UK should leave the union.”

(Turkish student, Istanbul University, Turkey)


“An autonomous status will give more power to the UK to make reforms and policies for the growth in all the spheres of economic development.”

(Indian student, considering studying at the University of Auckland, New Zealand)


“I believe that the EU has become greatly biased towards certain countries personal interests, one example for this is the use of the U.S.A of the EU in promoting war against poor and weak countries. I believe that the UK is a great country that is too developed to cling onto any regimes based on personal interests and benefits. It is time for the United Kingdom to become an independent power promoting world Unity and peace not only EU biased interests.”

(Egyptian student, interested in studying at University of Oxford, UK)


“If the United Kingdom exits the EU, more opportunities will be available for international students from outside the EU. In a nutshell, it is obvious that international students from outside the EU will stand greater chances of landing good job opportunities upon completion of their course provided that they will be competing with their EU counterparts on a leveled playing field.”

(Cameroonian student, The University of Northampton, UK)


“In my view, it gives United Kingdom the opportunity to save cost through the membership fee. The money can be used for research, science and technology to improve its innovations. It also gives UK the opportunity to involve in free trade agreements with other countries and also gives the opportunity for UK to fully concentrate on managing its internal welfare than worrying about EU.”

(Papua New Guinean student, considering studying at the University of Sussex, UK)


The economy of the UK remains quite independent of the economic of other European countries, so I suppose that there won’t be any serious consequence leaving the EU with its economic situation. The UK has its own currency and can easily continue the development of the economy. Perhaps, the situation with the migrants will be solved, because the EU won’t pressure the UK policy. It’s already more difficult to get the UK visa than a European one. And, frankly, I have always thought about the UK and the EU as different, not connected formation.

(Russian student, Moscow State Linguistic University, Russia)


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