Surprising drop in European applications to study in the UK
Applications from the UK’s leading overseas student market fell 40% for undergraduate courses from 2021-2022, but Brexit, not COVID-19, is behind the drop .
The surprising drop in applications to study in the UK is not from China, which is getting so much attention on recruiting international students, but from the countries that make up the European Union, the International Higher Education Forum, or IHEF 2021, heard on April 13, 2021.
The forum, organized annually by Universities UK International (UUKi), learned that there were 147,800 EU students enrolled in UK universities in 2019-20, compared to 141,870 students from China, according to data from Higher Education. UK Statistics Agency (HESA). .
But, as of the January 2021 deadline for applications to the UK Universities and Colleges Admission Service (UCAS), the number of applicants to the EU stood at 26,010, up from 43,030 the year before. This represents a drop of 40%, the highest percentage in South Eastern and Eastern Europe.
In contrast, there was a 17.1% increase in the number of applications to study in the UK from third country students across the world.
Holly Smith, senior international officer at the University of Sussex, said the decline in European interest in studying in the UK varied from institution to institution, but a UCAS heat map showed a clear East divide -West, with a decrease of 73% of applications from Bulgaria, Romania and Lithuania register respectively a decrease of 66% and 65% of applications.
The decline has so far been less severe in Western Europe, with Spanish applications down 27% and a 30% drop in the share of prospective students in Germany.
Ireland is the only country in the EU with an increase in the number of applications to study in the UK so far, with applications rising 26% after the announcement that Irish nationals living in Ireland and born in the UK will be eligible for housing costs and tuition loans in the future. .
Almut Caspary, head of higher education and science for the EU region at the British Council, said their surveys showed continued interest in studying at UK universities, but prospective students were concerned about the increase the cost of studying in the UK after leaving the EU.
Their most recent British “ Brexit temperature check ” study, in February 2021, showed that future employability and a welcoming environment were twice as important in choosing where to study abroad than concerns about COVID. The cost and quality of education were the most important considerations for prospective students abroad.
This confirms previous surveys by the British Council of EU students aged 16-34 in Spain, Germany, Poland, France and Greece last year, which found that around 15% wanted travel to an English-speaking market at the undergraduate or postgraduate level, with four out of five in this group favoring the UK because of its proximity and the quality of its higher education institutions.
However, the increase in tuition fees and the cost of living worried 72% of the students surveyed. Administrative pressures, such as the cost of visas, were increased by 59%; while 45% said they feared the UK would offer a less attractive life and culture after Brexit.
Another 42% were concerned about post-study opportunities, while 31% were concerned about the declining quality of education, Caspary said.
When the British Council invited students to compare rival study sites abroad, such as the United States, Germany and Canada, the United Kingdom came out on top for the quality of its higher education , obtaining 96% against 93% in the United States and 88% for Germany and Canada.
The UK was also in the lead for employability, scoring 82% versus 80% for the US. Germany beat the UK for culture, at 96%, compared to 93% for the UK and US. Germany was far ahead in costs, with 74% versus 59% for the UK and 55% for Canada.
During the discussion at IHEF 2021, which was themed ‘Recruiting EU students in a post-Brexit world – are we facing a collapse? ” Holly Smith said that many EU students had in the past been attracted to study in the UK by access to tuition loans and ‘the freedom of movement towards quality education without need to apply for a visa ”, as well as health and work rights similar to those of their country of origin.
Rethinking the approach to recruitment in the EU
Now UK universities needed to rethink their approach, and although many student hires had EU recruitment in their job titles, they had to see the European Union as many different countries. “Don’t think of the EU as one country,” she urged.
British Council’s Caspary agreed, telling delegates online that their latest ‘temperature check’ in February showed the impact of Brexit was softening in Germany and France, while it was hardening in Greece and in Poland among prospective students who had considered studying in the UK.
“A surprising number of Greek students were quite positive about Brexit last year,” she said, adding that the change in attitude in Greece and Poland was “very likely due to the taking of realizing that it would be much more expensive to go to the UK to study. This reality had not emerged last year. “
She said: ‘Students also really want to understand the employment possibilities when they graduate from the UK. We need to communicate that well to the students.
Focus on peers
As to how best to market the studies in the UK, Caspary said the clear message that came out of their surveys was to ‘focus on peers, friends, siblings, anyone they know who has studied in UK ”.
She said the students were “information-centric and not so much interested in emotional stories unless they come directly from the students and they can hear about the experiences of the students and get the voice of the students.”
Rob Carthy, Director of International Development at the University of Northumbria, who chaired the session, said: “None of us have ever experienced a set of markets transforming from one thing. to another ”and admitted that many in the sector had felt“ the air of doom and sadness ”on leaving the EU.
But he urged UK universities to rise to the challenge of recruiting students from EU countries in the post-Brexit environment. Instead of relying on the old discourse of British higher education being ‘easy access’ and being ‘largely free where students could access loans’, UK universities needed to focus the message on high quality as they do so in other international markets.
Kim Tritton, head of student recruitment at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), called for caution moving forward, saying UK universities “may displace European students from their recruitment focused on original students to international, and to a different department with a different perspective, the [EU] students may not be in that frame of mind. We change our approach, but the student may not be with us.
And Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said the UK government is unlikely to invest in a Europe-focused scholarship program now, although the Foreign Office is offering some support. before the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is felt on the country’s finances, “maybe this is something the industry could do on its own.”
Nic Mitchell is a freelance journalist and public relations consultant specializing in European higher education. He directs De la Cour Communications and blogs on www.delacourcommunications.com.