Britain has been one of the top destinations for business education for quite a while because of the overall reputation of British universities and the position of the City of London as one of the world’s top financial centres. However, the UK's decision to leave the EU in the June 2016 referendum has shaken up the status quo.
Although the actual implications are still to be seen and there is a lot of speculation, here are some essential aspects of graduate education in the UK that you should consider if you are planning to pursue a Master’s or an MBA degree in the next couple of years.
Whatever the consequences of Brexit might be, imminent changes are unlikely. Once the UK formally states its intention to leave before the European Council, it has two years to negotiate the conditions of its exit. However, many experts believe that the withdrawal will take much longer than two years. The British Prime Minister Theresa May has said already she will not start the formal separation procedure this year.
What is more, experts are divided in their opinion on whether Brexit will harm British business education.
Conrad Chua, Head of Admissions and Careers, Cambridge Judge Business School, claims that the withdrawal of the UK from the EU will not have an impact on the global nature of the school’s MBA programme and the opportunities for students to learn and progress their careers around the world.
At the same time, Nigel Driffield, professor of international business at Warwick Business School, told BusinessBecause that it would be a “disaster” if the UK leaves the EU.
Regardless of the outcome, prospective students should be aware of the possible changes that may affect their decision to study in the UK. Here is a rundown of the key aspects you should keep in mind before applying.
Will Brexit affect the cost of studying in the UK?
Britain’s top universities are considering raising “home” tuition fees to GBP 9,250 in autumn 2017, after the government allowed them to scrap the GBP 9,000 upper limit introduced in 2012. The plan will allow those universities providing “the highest quality teaching” to increase fees to GBP 9,250 from 2017-18 in line with inflation, which is estimated at 2.8% for next year. Some universities have already announced they will raise their annual tuition fees for courses beginning in 2017.
EU citizens studying for a Bachelor’s degree at UK universities are currently charged “home fees” of about GBP 9,000 -- the same as British students. However, Brexit may deprive EU citizens of this privilege, which means that they may be charged as much as other international students, who are required to pay annual fees of more than GBP 35,000 for some programmes.
Pursuing Master’s degrees may also become more expensive for EU students. For example, the University of Manchester’s MSc Accounting and Finance currently costs GBP 20,000 for British and EU students and GBP 23,000 for overseas students. MSc in Finance and Investment at the University of Edinburgh costs GBP 19,700 for home/EU students and GBP 26,350 for non-EU students.
The cost of MBA programmes in the UK is usually the same for all students, irrespective of the country they come from.
Who will have access to UK student loans?
Some EU students are currently eligible for loans that they only have to start repaying after landing a job. Most of them find work in the UK, where they don’t need a visa. This suggests that EU students may find it much harder to obtain and repay loans if they are treated the same as non-EU international students, who are subject to more restrictive visa and work regulations.
How will visa and work regulations change?
Those seeking to enter the UK in the future may be forced to comply with new immigration rules, according to Jurga McCluskey, head of immigration at Deloitte UK.
The UK government has already been criticised by business schools for tightening the visa requirements for overseas students and recent reports suggest that Theresa May is preparing a further crackdown on higher education institutions as she believes they have become an easy route into the UK for economic migrants.
Many international students are being discouraged to come to the UK by changes in visa regulations introduced in 2012. Previously, students had the right to stay and work in the UK for two years after graduation but, according to the new rules, they can stay in the UK only if they secure an offer of a skilled job from a licensed employer. In addition, language and financial requirements were also tightened.
Immigration restrictions on non-EU students are already tough. As a result, the number of student visa applications from people outside the EU dropped by 6% to 222,609 in the twelve months to March 2016, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics.
Will UK universities maintain the quality of education?
Access to university research funding
Academic research funding is one of the sectors most likely to be affected by the UK’s exit from the EU. UK universities reportedly receive over USD 1.7 billion in EU research funding per year. According to some reports, the uncertainty surrounding the future eligibility of British universities is prompting academics in other EU countries to pull out of joint funding bids for projects with British colleagues.
This is a major shift as British academics have so far been more than welcome partners in such bids, given the strength of UK universities. Applications for grants from European higher education research funds, such as Horizon 2020, require teams of researchers from at least three EU states or associate countries.
Should the UK be freed from its duty to contribute to the EU budget, it may increase its own spending on higher education to close the funding gap, but this is not a certainty.
Selectivity and diversity in the classroom
The rich diversity in the British MBA and Master’s classrooms has always been one of their most compelling attributes, and there are concerns that Brexit could reduce the appeal of British business schools among international students. A UK departure from the EU could not only complicate the access of EU nationals to the country but also drive away non-EU internationals willing to study in the UK but looking for jobs in the EU.
Those of you who want to study in the UK probably already know that classroom diversity brings a lot of value in terms of the quality of education for a highly globalised business environment. Thus, admissions officers are keen to create culturally diverse classes where spirited debate and exchange of knowledge are fostered by the experience and backgrounds of the participants.
Iliana Bobova, Head of Admissions Consulting at Advent Group – a leading business education marketing agency, suggests:
If UK universities become less attractive for international students, their selectivity may decrease. This would have a negative impact on the quality of the learning environment in management education, especially coupled with less cultural diversity in the classroom.
Predictions for career prospects in the UK
MBA and Master’s graduates who plan to look for a job in the UK after obtaining their degrees cannot be happy with a PwC report which predicted that the British financial sector will lose up to 100,000 jobs by 2020 as a result of Brexit. Such a development would mean fewer opportunities in the City, which is the dream of many studying for an MBA in the UK. Consultancy and professional services - another field drawing a lot of MBA graduates - are also expected to be hit, according to rating agency Moody’s.
Angus Laing, dean of Lancaster University Management School (LUMS), told The Economist:
I find it very difficult to see that the type of global citizen you are recruiting to a ranked MBA programme would be of a mindset to support a much smaller, more insular view of the world.
Brexit has cast a shadow over British business education. However, it is still unclear how exactly business schools will be affected by the vote and its outcome. The future does not look particularly bright at the moment, but bear in mind that the process of unhitching the UK from the EU may involve developments that are hard to predict and that may actually preserve the allure of studying in the UK.
If you plan on doing an MBA or a Master’s in Britain, keep an eye on the above-mentioned aspects so you can make the right decision regarding your future.