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Brexit could mean more buying power but tougher immigration, agents fear

Agents around world have said that while the Brexit result could make the pound weaker allowing more students to study in the UK initially, they expressed concern about the longer term impacts on immigration policy and study-work options for European students.
June 21 2016
3 Min Read

While a weaker pound could drive more students to study in the UK initially, fears that longer term impacts on immigration policy and study-work options for European students have agencies around the world hoping the country votes to remain in the EU.

Speaking with The PIE News two days before the UK EU referendum, the UK’s overseas agent partners have voiced their concerns about the implications of what a potential Brexit outcome could mean for the UK as a study destination.

“Brexit is the logical development of the immigration policy that we’ve seen in the UK for the past five years,” said Elena Solomonova, managing director at Insight Lingua in Russia. “From our point of view as an international education business, it already has negative results.

“As an international education business, it already has negative results”

“The idea of stepping up to close the gates and having a stricter immigration policy to protect your country will have more negative results than any high expectation of more security,” she said.

“I don’t think isolation of any country corresponds with the idea of global business.”

Like most agents, Solomonova said Brexit isn’t a topic students or their parents bring up during consultations. In Russia specifically, concerns still centre on domestic politics and their own economic turmoil.

“It won’t have an immediate impact if it happens,” she noted. “Our students will realise with a delay of three to five years but for our business it doesn’t help growth.”

Insight Lingua sends students to the UK for both short-term language courses and higher education degrees. Brexit won’t impact the language markets unless prices increase, said Solomonova, but she expects British higher education will be a harder sell, especially if immigration policy tightens.

“More and more countries are competing in this field so when the UK puts more restrictions on students on top of limiting part time jobs and internships, that will be negative,” she said. In Russia there is already an increasing demand to study in other EU countries because of lower tuition fees, she noted.

“I would expect the number of students in the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Holland to go up [in the event of Brexit]. From far east Russia, they’ll go to Australia, China and Singapore,” she projected.

Gianluigi Rago, a counsellor at Eurocultura in Italy, said the result won’t affect 2016 bookings but an “out” vote could create more foreign exchange uncertainty.

“My clients aren’t worried. Those who are going now don’t see a problem,” he said. “But financially there might be more uncertainty on the exchange rate than we have at the moment.”

Bureaucracy around immigration processes will also increase the workload for agents, said Rago.

“I would expect the number of students in the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Holland to go up”

“It all depends on what the UK government decides to do. Nobody knows what the result  will be in a month, a year,” he observed.

Similarly, Julia Richter, managing director at FDSV, the representative body for the German language travel sector, expects new immigration hurdles for European students. “Germans will have longer waiting times at the border. We probably won’t need visas to enter but it will be harder for Eastern European students.”

Work rights, which are now unlimited for European students, could also be curtailed, affecting agents who sell language courses alongside work experience.

Despite concerns among FDSV members, Richter is optimistic that Friday June 24 will be business as usual.

“Generally speaking, I think the British are smart enough to stay in,” she said.

Meanwhile from a German consumer point of view, added Richter, Brexit is a good thing. “Students will get more for less,” she noted.

If the pound sterling loses value, as a number of economists have predicted, a “leave” result could give more students greater purchasing power, many agents have said. And the UK’s appeal as a study destination won’t change whether it’s in Europe or not, according to Jose Carlos Santos, president of STB in Brazil.

“Germans will have longer waiting times at the border”

“Students that choose to go to England have a particular interest in the country that is not only related to the learning itself, but to culture,” he said. “There are many countries where English is offered, but no one is the land of so many important history and cultural related monuments, museums and traditions.”

Course prices will be comparable to other European destinations and even housing, which in cities like London is often three times higher than other countries, could become more affordable.

However, a weaker pound would also mean agents earn less through commissions. Kitty Wijsman, owner of Studie-Wijs agency in the Netherlands, said smaller agents especially will be hurt by a weaker pound.

“If you have a fixed percentage you earn double for a course in the UK than you do for a course in Spain,” she observed. “If you’re independent like me, you earn all your income based on commissions.”

Agents might change their policy to charge clients for services in order to make up for the fall in exchange rates, she added.

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