A less attractive UK higher education to EU students? An unprecedented challenge yet a predictable Brexit fallout

7th October 2021 : 14:00 - 15:00

Category: Webinar

Speaker: Vassiliki Papatsiba, University of Sheffield

Location: Zoom webinar, registration required

Audience: Public

The impact of Brexit on student demographics in the UK is undeniable. EU student enrolment in UK higher education has declined post-Brexit to levels not seen in recent decades. UCAS data (30 June 2021) showed a 44 per cent drop in EU student applications, with a more recent publication (7 September 2021) revealing an even more severe fall of 56.4 per cent of EU students accepted in undergraduate study programmes. This is a direct consequence of Brexit for UK higher education. Its effects are likely to run deep within the system, involving significant dimensions of student experience for home and international students, as well as impacting the sector’s national and international reputation.

In this presentation, I draw from an ESRC funded study (2017-2019) undertaken by CGHE, that included 127 participants from twelve universities in the four UK nations: England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. These participants were predominantly institutional leaders: senior university executives, administrators, and academics – with some student and governing council representatives. Their high level and frontline experience of higher education and research captured in our data provides authentic insights into the complexities of the current situation, the subsequent overlapping and far-reaching consequences.

A decrease in EU student demand for UK higher education places was anxiously anticipated by nearly all participants in our research. In addition to this unanimous primary concern, substantial topics of discussion explored the threat to diversity, increased intra-national competition for scarce resources and talent between UK universities, as well as a weakened position for the UK Higher Education sector when competing globally. It is suggested that a fall in the diversity of the student body may impact academic quality and undermine the international reputation of UK universities – leading to the sector becoming more insular and inward-looking. Lower-ranked, less traditionally prestigious universities are also predicted to be hit hardest by the compound impacts of Brexit alongside pre-existing issues within the hierarchically stratified sector.

This webinar is part of the free public seminar programme hosted by the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE).