Brexit and international student mobility

It is 11am and the sun is still sitting low in the horizon. I hear the sound of water drops from the sea waves below tinkling on my office window. Winter solstice is nearly here and as I polish off my marking for the year, I am reflecting on my first year as a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews. Since February 2016, I have been working with Allan Findlay and David McCollum on an ESRC-funded project on the dynamics and policy implications of changes in student mobility. Our work examines the drivers of international student migration to the UK, Sweden, Austria and Latvia, and it could not be timelier.

The UK is considered a ‘world-class’ destination for higher education and one of the top receiving countries for international students. As such, the results from Britain’s EU referendum has raised several concerns about the future of international student mobility in the UK and the EU. Among the many impacts of Brexit in Britain and Europe, international student mobility is already showing the effects of recent and anticipated policy changes. International students have been a target (and scapegoat) in the UK government’s immigration discourses as well as in the rhetoric of the leave campaign. That, coupled with the removal of the post-study work visa, has likely contributed to dwindling numbers of EU students as well as Indian students – formerly one of the top incoming student groups in the UK. Allan Findlay and I have written a working paper for the Centre for Population Change (CPC) that examines the changes to international student mobility in the UK. Drawing on secondary data from the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA), the paper provides a contextual backdrop and an evidence base to evaluate the changes to, and rhetoric around, international students in the UK.

While international student numbers have continued to grow in the UK, these are heavily reliant on incoming students from China. However, as the growth in numbers of Chinese students has begun to stagnate, much uncertainty lies ahead for the UK’s higher education sector. In addition, much remains to be seen on the fate of the Erasmus Program in the UK, a popular EU student exchange scheme. With that being said and with this ESRC project coming to an end, there is a need for more research and attention to be given to understanding the implications of Brexit on international student mobility, not only in the UK but in the rest of Europe, and potentially in other parts of the world.

Below are some relevant news articles that have sprung up so far since the result of the referendum:

International student numbers have been plummeting for years. Now what?

EU students applying to British universities plummet by 9 per cent following Brexit vote

Erasmus scheme may exclude British students after Brexit

Third of foreign students less likely to come to UK after Brexit

No 10 rejects idea that foreign students should not count as immigrants

UK government rejects student visa calls

India urges Theresa May to open UK doors to university students

UK considers plans to nearly halve international student visas

Amber Rudd gives us another ill-informed and imprudent attack on international students