UK business schools come to terms with Brexit

Moving from Germany to the UK to study for a Masters in Analytics and Management at the London Business School was an expensive, bureaucratic challenge for Alex Scheuer.

The 23-year-old had to spend £800 to get a student visa and hundreds more on health insurance because after Brexit his German citizenship no longer gave him free care through Britain’s NHS. He is still unsure whether he will look for a job in London after his degree.

“To be honest, I’m not sure if I can stay here,” he says. “I opened the door to come to London, but the higher wages are not enough to offset the increased cost of living compared to where I was.”

Despite all this, Scheuer does not regret coming to the UK and would recommend that other EU citizens do the same, at least to attend the country’s top institutions. His most likely move after graduation next August will be to return to Berlin, but the payback from studying at the London school made coming to the UK worthwhile, he believes.

“The LBS brand sets you up for a career wherever you go,” says Scheuer. “I made a calculation that my company salary in Germany should increase by about half, which means I can make back the school fees I pay from my savings in two years.”

Alex Scheuer came from Germany to study at LBS

Brexit has had some impact on the UK business education sector – which at the top punches above its weight globally – but not as big as some feared.

Changes to the UK student visa programme, which lowers a barrier to international students that existed before the EU referendum, as well as the fall in the value of the pound after Brexit was announced, have helped attract business students to the UK from the EU and beyond.

Postgraduate enrollments from EU countries for the 2022/23 academic year were down to 47 per cent of institutions surveyed by the Chartered Association of Business Schools (Cabs), the trade body for UK MBA providers. However, 50 percent reported significantly higher intake from other parts of the world this year, while a further 24 percent reported the same or slightly higher intake from countries outside the EU.

The latest survey of business school admissions offices by the Graduate Management Admission Council concluded that the growth in foreign applications to UK MBAs compared to before the pandemic has largely offset a decline in domestic applications due to higher tuition fees.

The top schools, such as LBS, have had the greatest advantage. The percentage of students from EU nations at LBS’s stucco Regent’s Park campus has increased since the Brexit vote in 2016. The proportion of EU students enrolled in all LBS degrees rose from 21.1 per cent in 2021-22 to 23.4 per cent in 2022 -23, according to Arnold Longboy, executive director, recruitment and admissions, at LBS. He partly credits the two-year graduate visa scheme introduced by the government in July 2021.

“While the number of students from Europe has been relatively stable since Brexit, we have seen increased interest from a number of other regions,” says Longboy, noting that there has been an increase in students from India and China since 2017-18, encouraged by the more attractive visa rules. “However, European students have not necessarily been displaced by this growth. As the school has grown, we have been able to incorporate the growth [from] certain regions into the growth of some programs.”

The UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service reports that EU applications to UK university courses as a whole have fallen by 53.1 per cent since 2020, with business schools potentially having more to lose than most institutions. Deans at UK business schools are not only worried about student numbers, but also the loss of EU benefits for MBA providers through research funding and executive training for those in work.

There are around 30,400 EU business students studying in the UK, contributing £1.3 billion to the country’s economy each year through course fees and off-campus expenses, according to the Chartered Association of Business Schools (Cabs). Also, about a third of business school staff are from outside the UK, and of those, 14 per cent are from the EU, says Cabs.

Business schools in the UK received £18.2 million in research funding from EU sources in the 2020-21 academic year, around a quarter of the total. And over the past five years, business and management research has received more funding from EU government bodies than the UK government.

“It does not feel to me that Brexit has caused an exodus of either staff or students, but this has not been without consequences either,” says Robert MacIntosh, chairman of Cabs. “It is definitely harder work to recruit and retain staff from the EU, both because of visa practicalities and the perceived differences in attitudes they may face, which makes it harder for people to progress in their careers here.”

Robert McIntosh

Robert McIntosh

Perhaps the greatest strength of Britain’s leading schools is that, despite Brexit, they remain culturally havens for the internationally minded – both students and faculty.

“For those in the MBA job market, job opportunities here have not changed significantly just because of Brexit,” says Kathy Harvey, associate dean of MBAs and executive degrees at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. “We have a very international mix and because our students have global roles, some may be from outside the EU but live and work there and choose to come to Oxford to study… We benefit from their experience”.

Brexit has created new opportunities for teaching about geopolitics and dealing with uncertainty, says Harvey. “What things like Brexit do is raise questions about the relationship between business and government.” Perspective is important, she adds: “Even if we think of Brexit as a few years down the road, it’s still very early days in terms of what it will mean.”

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