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Big Brexit questions still remain for European students 

Students around Europe are uncertain of the impact Brexit will have on their education but remain concerned about funding, campus diversity, career options and being welcomed in the UK, according to a QS survey of 1,000 students in 10 European countries.

The report has called for stronger messages from UK universities reassuring EU students and for clear strategies to preserve international partnerships, study abroad programs and student fee guarantees. Photo: Wikicommons/ Dave Kellam.

"Many scholars and academics are considering going elsewhere if the academic environment is affected"

On average, 42% of EU students (not including students from the UK) said Brexit would have “no impact” on their education. Meanwhile, more than 70% of students from Belgium, Germany, France, Romania and Norway said Brexit would have “no impact” on their education or they “don’t know” if it will.

The UK, Denmark, Spain, Italy and Greece are where perceptions are markedly more negative. Forty-six percent of students in the UK and 45% of students in Denmark said it would have a negative impact on their education while just over 30% of students in Spain, Greece and Italy said the same.

“Actually the uncertainty is putting students off because it is a big investment for their lives”

The survey was accompanied by 100 interviews with European students carried out between October 2016 and March 2017 that author Dasha Karzunina said provides more insight into how students really feel about the UK leaving the European Union.

“The feeling of uncertainty was something a very large portion of students felt but when we dug deeper and asked them to guess the impact, most said it would be negative,” she told The PIE News.

For example, Cédric, a history student in Belgium, told QS: “I guess in a way it will definitely affect my future but I can’t really tell you why or how… In my mind right now, since they’re demonising Brexit, I would say it would be a bad impact.”

Another student from Belgium, Gaspard, who is looking to do a master’s in business management abroad, said: “I cannot say. I’m not familiar enough with Brexit to say that. My feeling is that it will have an impact but I don’t yet know if that will be negative or positive.”

The uncertainty, while not wholly negative for the UK, is still driving students away, according to Karzunina.

“Although it can be dismissed as too early to say, actually the uncertainty is putting students off because it is a big investment for their lives and students are less willing to take the risk,” she said.

Student interviews also reveal a common concern among students that the UK is now a less welcoming destination.

“I was hoping to go there to study but I’ve changed my mind,” said Ema in Spain, a prospective master’s student. “I don’t see the point of going to a country that is sending signals such as these, I won’t be welcome there.”

The impact on the UK’s campus diversity was also brought up by students. “Many scholars and academics are considering going elsewhere if the academic environment is affected… Although I have UK universities on my list, I am reconsidering my options because I am afraid many scholars will leave the UK,” said a student in Italy.

Meanwhile, a German student said: “What if I want to do a semester abroad? Will the UK lose some of its European partner universities based on European law? Brexit has a negative influence on my choice.”

When it comes to funding, the weakened pound made the UK attractive for some students, but many interviewees said the uncertainty around gaining access to the UK’s domestic loan scheme has caused them to look elsewhere.

“With everything that’s happening with the Greek crisis, it is more difficult for me and my family to decide where I should study because of the tuition,” said Theodora, a Greek student of English language and literature at the University of Athens. “I’m looking for something that my family can afford.”

A slightly more positive outcome of the uncertainty around funding is that some students have decided to act sooner on their study plans, confident that nothing will change immediately.

“I’ve put some thought in it, but I think that the Brexit talk is going to last two years so I think I will be able to finish my master’s beforehand,” said Damianos in Greece.

However, questions around longer-term career prospects and the strength of the UK’s employment market are weighing on students’ minds. When asked if Brexit would have an impact on their careers, 42% of Danish students said “yes, a negative impact” along with 41% of Italian students, 39% of Spanish students and 38% of Romanian students.

“They feel that employers would prioritise British students more,” noted Karzunina. “European students are putting themselves in the category with the rest of the world now.”

Assya, a Bulgarian student currently studying in the UK, said: “I decided that after Brexit, I don’t want to stay in the UK anymore. I would prefer to do my master’s elsewhere in Europe. I was investing a lot, my time and everything, and now suddenly – if I won’t be able to find a good job, it won’t be worth it to do one more year in the UK.”

However, some students found Brexit could be positive for their careers, citing the relocation of the UK’s financial services industry. Jan, a student from Frankfurt, said: “Maybe the investment banking and trading will move to Frankfurt and that will offer new jobs for me. On a micro level it might be good, but on a macro level it is definitely bad.”

“Simply telling students things will continue as normal is not the solution”

Overwhelmingly, students from the UK view Brexit negatively. Fifty-four percent said it would have a negative impact on their future career as their confidence in finding employment opportunities falls.

“I’d quite like to get into research, so I am worried about how leaving the EU would affect British research,” said Alex, in the UK, who is looking to go into earth observation. “I wanted to stay in Britain to work, so I am worried about how it would affect research funding.”

The report recommends UK universities double down on efforts to communicate welcome messages and for the government to address the cloud of uncertainty around Brexit.

“Students said the messages of reassurance from universities made a big difference,” said Karzunina. “Campaigns around showing how they want international students are very powerful. If they are concerned, especially for less prestigious universities, not in the top 10, they need to communicate more to students in Europe.”

The report calls for a clear strategy from the government to preserve international partnerships, study abroad programs and student fee guarantees. “Simply telling students things will continue as normal is not the solution,” it says.

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