Following the announcement of Brexit in 2016, Times Higher Education presented a glum case for the future of European Union student recruitment to UK institutions. Since then we’ve not only seen a complete reshuffle of cabinet ministers, but also dramatic shifts in international student recruitment strategies.
Dipping their toes into the previously shunned waters of the Americas and Central Asia alongside the trendy South East Asia region, international educators are attempting to offset perceived risks associated with the still uncertain Brexit deal by sourcing their students elsewhere. Where rapid growth was identified in 2018 in markets such as Poland, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Portugal, British universities are now in a tricky predicament – continue to invest in the EU or pick up sticks and relocate to more financially stable climes?
On the one hand, the British education system is still revered: the aura of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Edinburgh still ensures that the UK occupies a huge space in the international education arena. Clinging onto our reputation, many cities such as London, Leicester, Birmingham, Manchester and Lincoln are also home to a whole suite of European Union student communities. Comfort, inclusion and student experience seem to be the main draws.
Culturally enriching, diligent and vibrant, students from the European Union make up a huge part of the British international education scene.
However, with universities facing increasing financial pressures as ICEF Monitor reported last year, the pressure is on. Extortionate tuition fees mean that potential students are looking elsewhere for a financially viable offer. Taking heed of our demise, our European neighbours have trumped us on competitive fees, reasonable costs of living and stylish cities to live in post study. Needless to say, Scandinavian and Dutch universities are succeeding in their pursuits, attracting European students aplenty, and even a new plethora of Irish students.
The ecosystem of EU student recruitment is a complex one which can no longer rely on a conventional strategy. Investing in financially stable markets who are not reliant on the student loan (Germany, France, Netherlands and Scandinavia) is one way to offset potential losses.
Equally, it is time to up the ante on postgraduate recruitment instead of being heavily reliant on undergraduate enrolments. Universities may need to turn to their EU ambassadors even more to help promote their institutions, acting as a conduit between potential students and the institution itself. Adopting a proactive approach to transnational education and being creative with the EU through bespoke projects and collaborative research could be another way in.
Whatever the future holds, it is important to hold onto our relationship with EU students. Culturally enriching, diligent and vibrant, students from the European Union make up a huge part of the British international education scene. In brief, we cannot afford to lose them.
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