Research article

Brexit and the European student market

Opportunities for European competitors, but UK sector fundamentals remain robust

The UK’s vote to leave the EU has brought with it challenges and opportunities in the European student sector.

In the near term, a weak pound makes study in the UK cheaper for most overseas students, while British students studying abroad will face a greater cost burden.

Longer term, uncertainty remains over treatment of EU students around immigration and fees. Should tuition fees rise to current non-EU levels, the cost-benefit of studying in the UK to these students could become less appealing.

In future, any decline in EU student numbers may be offset by demand from non-EU students. Given the large number of established, high ranking universities in the UK, a degree from a British university will remain a major draw.

EU students studying in the UK accounted for 5% of all students in 2014/15, down 4% from a 2012/13 peak. Non EU international students made up 14% of the total student body, growing by 5% over the same period.

While it is unlikely that the UK’s university sector will lose its strong global standing on the result of the referendum, it does offer some opportunity for competing countries to gain ground in specific areas, research being one.

The UK’s strong professional services sector is a major draw for skilled employees from around the globe, and a strong university sector plays a key role in this. Any stricter caps on student numbers could have a detrimental impact to both higher education and the wider economy.

One upside may come in the investment sector. As a stable income-producing asset with countercyclical characteristics, student housing is well placed to benefit from increased investor appetite in times of market and economic uncertainty – both in the UK and the rest of Europe.

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