Balancing the Scales – Brexit and UK Universities

Posted on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 by Venn GroupNo comments

Universities are big business; they contribute £73 billion for the British economy which amounts to 2.8% of the UK GDP, providing 750,000 jobs and around £11 billion of export earnings for the UK.

The industry in large parts relies upon the vast number of international students bringing their hard earned (borrowed) money to these shores. According to UKCISA (UK Council of International Student Affairs) in 2015/16 there were 127,440 EU students studying in the UK and 310,575 non EU international students in the same period.

With international students and staff being so crucial for this industry, the potential effects of Brexit are all the more prevalent. Below I take a brief look at the possible benefits and perils of Brexit for UK Universities.



EU students will have to pay increased fees: Although not confirmed, EU students are expected to see their fees rise in line with their non EU international counterparts. HEPI have predicted that Universities might be in line for a short term windfall of 187 million pounds from fee increases.


Weak pound: The weak pound makes Britain’s exports more affordable to the world, in this case it is hoped that the weakness of the pound will still make its HE courses affordable and attractive to our European brethren.


British students get British places: Domestic demand for Higher Education has been steadily increasing, a fall in the number of international students would mean more places for UK students at the Universities of their choice.



Falling recruitment numbers: Dominic Scott the Chief Exec of UKCISA (UK Council of International Student Affairs) warned that for 2015/2016 non EU international recruitment had stagnated. In India alone recruitment fell by 10% losing out to the US and Australian markets. This means the UK is relying increasingly on EU students, and with the uncertainty of Brexit that leaves HE institutions in a precarious position. This years’ figures have already shown a 3% drop in EU applicants, even though fees for these students have been guaranteed regardless of Brexit changes.


Staffing: A recent survey conducted by University and College Union found that 76% of EU Academics would consider leaving the UK because of the result of the referendum. Given that EU residents account for 32,000 University staff this is a worrying statistic. ‘The Brain Drain’ is a major concern for HE leaders not just in losing academic staff but also vital support services such as IT and Finance are expected to suffer.


Research: British Universities’ reputation is built on not only the standard of the education students receive but also on the world leading Research its academics produce. Such research is predicated on collaboration not only of scholarly ideas but of funding. The UK government have undertaken to guarantee funding for any requests that would have received funding through European programmes such as Horizon 2020. However UK Universities’ long term access to such funding has still yet to be established, being excluded from such programmes could see UK Universities fall behind their international competitors in their ability to fund research and attract the brightest minds.


Verdict: The short term effects of Brexit may not hit Universities too hard, especially on the economic side, an increase in fees may be beneficial. However, the real challenge will be the UK’s ability to attract the best students and staff from across the world, in a post Brexit world. The HE sector will await the terms of a Brexit deal with more interest than most…


Rory Wood, Venn Group

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