The British Prime Minister Theresa May appears adamant in her quest to restrict immigration. As Home Secretary (May 2010 – July 2016), she introduced rules seeking to prevent foreign students from staying in the country after graduation, and just last month she ruled out exempting foreign students from net migration figures as part of an ongoing review of the system.
But now, business school officials are worried that all these developments will send a message to potential students from around the world, according to Bloomberg.
Britain is home to three of the top 10 MBA programmes outside the US on Bloomberg’s most recent ranking of business schools: London Business School (No. 2), the University of Oxford (No. 6), and the University of Cambridge (No. 8). These schools rely heavily on students from outside the country.
Crackdown on immigration
Brexit, which will take up to two years to fulfil once it formally begins next year, could usher in changes to the law that allows EU students to study in the country without a visa. More broadly, schools are concerned that the backlash against immigration could pressure the UK to put up barriers against all international students, including those from the EU.
It has happened before. In 2011 the government announced a tightening of visa regulations for international students. May's Home Office put those policies into effect in 2015, telling ministers that UK universities should “develop sustainable funding models that are not so dependent on international students”.
Fraudulent business programmes that abuse the system are a real concern. But the policy changes hurt British business schools' efforts to recruit international students, especially in India and China, the Chartered Association of Business Schools wrote in a report this year. Non-EU first-year students studying business and administration in the country last year dropped 8.6% to 60,190, the lowest level since 2009-10.
Students studying at business schools in the UK contribute GBP 3.25 billion (USD 4 billion) a year to the country's economy, according to the business school group. That's a fraction of the nation's economy. But GBP 2.4 billion of it, or nearly three-quarters, comes from international students.
Management schools, the training ground for the next wave of global business leaders, say the most troubling development of the vote to exit the EU is the rise of the anti-business, anti-immigration, and anti-trade sentiment itself. According to Peter Tufano, dean of Oxford’s Saïd Business School:
We have to be conscious of all the things going on in the world. [Business] doesn’t operate in a vacuum, and neither do business schools.
And it’s not just British business schools that worry. David Schmittlein, dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management, said that:
CEOs are concerned about the potential for big upheaval in ways that would challenge the role of capitalism. They are equally concerned about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who are coming to similar outcomes from different perspectives.
For some MBA seekers, business schools in the UK have a special allure: high-paying finance jobs in London. That appeal could lose some lustre if the industry takes a step backward. Indeed, TheCityUK lobbying group published a piece early this month that said British banks could lose GBP 40 billion in revenue if the country left the unified European market.
Faculty recruitment and funding under threat
Tufano's concerns include how Brexit will affect faculty recruitment and research funding within the UK and the EU. For instance, a weaker pound could make programmes financially more attractive to applicants but do the opposite for potential hires.
Brexit will result in the loss of EU research funds and regional development funding. That money has become more important in recent years as the UK has decreased its own funding. From 2010 to 2014, government research funding for business schools dropped 36% to GBP 13 million, even as EU research funding allocated to UK business schools jumped 22% to GBP 13.3 million. The schools take some comfort from the British government's promise to make up for the lost funding through 2020.
Andrew Likierman, dean of London Business School, told Bloomberg that he is confident the country won't do anything to push away the types of people likely to enrol in the country's elite MBA programmes. Instead, the nation's leaders want to limit immigration of unqualified and unskilled people, he said.
He said he is confident that applicants to London Business School will understand they’re still welcome in the U.K. But if schools receive fewer applicants, they won’t know until next year.
Schmittlein, of MIT's Sloan School, said that in recent months he has been watching the fear of social unrest grab the attention of executives and Sloan alumni from around the world, but he is optimistic the “louder voices” won't have a lasting impact on business education.
This isn’t the first time people have got anxious about globalisation. This is just the latest of that manifestation. What we are offering students from all over the world is to get a very global view of business. And the demand for that is not going away.