Cara Skikne

To UK or not to UK: What is the effect of Brexit on European students?


The main takeaway: In 2019, 3 out of 5 students in the EEA found the UK less appealing because of Brexit. In 2021, this number grew to 4 out of 5 students.

Brexit has had a deep impact on the perceptions and expectations of the UK as a global study destination. EEA and non-EEA students reacted to the UK leaving the European Union in diverse ways. Our latest update refreshes the results of a previous survey, highlighting the shifting grounds of the expectations of international students.

In our third year of carrying out surveys on the student perceptions on Brexit, the trends seen over the previous years have stayed the same with some notable changes. The survey is also as diverse as ever, as shown in the respondent map below.

Let us get into the 2021 results. Our latest survey is based on a qualified sample of 684 responses (330 from the EEA and 354 from the rest of the world) collected in February 2021 from a well-diversified sample of prospective students. British respondents are not included. The 2019 & 2020 surveys used for historical comparison are based on a larger pool of 1876 and 346 prospective students, respectively.

To UK or not to UK?

Students who had the UK among their top-3 destinations expressed why they considered a British education in their shortlist. Confirming what emerged in the previous years, the UK is where internationals are looking for world-class high-quality education achieving wide recognition for their efforts.

However, the difference between EEA and non-EEA students is more apparent when we put the ranking of their top reasons for choosing the UK. Non-EEA students consistently rate degree recognition higher than the EEA students, coming in on 3rd place over all the years. The importance of the international recognition of the degree is higher among countries where there are relatively less world-class options for tertiary education.

How has the student perceptions changed over these past 3 years?

The change in perceptions continued slipping into the negative as the reality of Brexit comes into view. Beginning in 2019, 15% of participants viewed Brexit as having a positive impact on the appeal of the UK when it comes to studying here. In our latest survey this number has almost halved to about 8%. When we filter these participants out to only EEA citizens, the impact of Brexit is even more noticeable. Negative perceptions of the UK worsened among EEA students: the numbers of EEA students finding the UK less appealing after Brexit grew from 3 out of 5 (2019), to 4 out of 5 (2021).

Managing student perceptions

Participants were presented with a set of statements. It appears that most of them link Brexit to a worsening effect for international students. However, there are some positive notes coming in the form of student perceptions improving on certain issues.

The survey participants were presented with a set of statements to identify what the specific concerns around Brexit were. The trend continues to point toward a worsening effect for all these concerns. The survey shows that concerns regarding the ease of travel to the UK is still at the top of mind for most people. And subsequently, concerns around the cost of completing a study in the UK has gone from a negative sentiment (Strongly disagree or disagree) of 54% in 2019 to 71% this year.

The good news is that the value of the UK degree is still holding steady as the least concerning of the bunch.

Ups and Downs: What are the perceptions of British Campuses overseas?

Studying in Europe and getting a British education is often a guarantee for great student experience and quality education. The response from Europeans has not shifted much on this issue as can be seen in the chart. Even though the sentiment has moved a bit in the negative direction, this is more of a crawl rather than a clear move downwards.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for non-EEA students. Even though they are more willing than their European counterparts, when we look at non-EEA students, those that are unlikely to study at a UK affiliated campus in Europe has increased with 10 percentage points over the past 2 years. Showing a clear separation in the minds of this demographic when it comes to the UK and the European Union at large.

What’s next?

With Brexit now fully in effect, we will have to wait and see if Brexit will have the desired effects on higher education or if the student perceptions will prove to be valid. Specifically, the digitization of higher education that has been accelerated due to Covid-19 pandemic can be influential to the interest of future UK students. As both Brexit and Covid-19 overlapped in time, their impact cannot be easily unbundled, although student interest to main global destinations changed markedly in 2020 and 2021. The effects of this can already be felt across the world and will have to be monitored closely (not lastly through our student interest dashboard). For other issues, such as the impact of Brexit on EEA student intake, this will require a more ad-hoc approach that is tailored to the needs of your institution.

Nevertheless, to navigate through 2021 you will need three things:

  • The right data to take an evidenced decision.
  • The right insights to proactively secure your future actions.
  • The right digital tools to reach out to prospective students.

Studyportals and Studyportals ACT are close to British universities in these uncertain times.

Feel free to contact us and find out how our solutions can help you get the most out of your digital strategy.

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