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Brexit: Agency view varies but loan funding crucial for EU students

Access to student loan funding for many EU students will be critical to ensure enrolment continues at university-level in the UK beyond the two-year guarantee period that Universities Minister Jo Johnson has offered assurance on, according to education agencies placing significant volumes of students in the UK.

"Of prime concern for EU students is the issue of funding for their studies, particularly loans and scholarships" says SI-UK's Co-Founder (SI-UK student fair in London)

"A number of students who were supposed to confirm UK as their study destination choice are taking up other offers"

Other agencies have signalled concern around perceptions of safety while in South America it is business as usual, if not better in a post-Brexit outcome. And non-EU agencies have voiced distant hopes that visa settings may improve in the future if the EU student market shrinks.

According to Tereza Fulfaro, director at major education agency CI in Brazil, the referendum reaction was one of optimism as the value of the pound dropped against the real by 15%.

“For us, it’s positive because of the pound,” she said. “And we have to take advantage. The schools did the same. I received millions of email marketing on Friday [24 June], saying ‘Now is the time to go to the UK’ and we did the same because I think we may recover some of the market that was lost because the high value of the pound.”

But while Fulfaro acknowledged a possible uplift for ELT in Brazil, and no fallout from the political schism between the UK and EU (“we have a country divided as well”), Josef Kysilka, a director of global agency network Information Planet, said there may be a long-term impact in the Czech Republic and Slovak markets.

“For us, it’s positive because of the pound”

According to Kysilka, the market for English language training has eroded giving way to growing demand for undergraduate study in the UK, considering the favourable terms for loan funding offered by the UK’s Student Loans Company, as per EU rules, with adjusted repayment terms depending on nationality.

As loan funding for postgraduate study had been made available for this academic year, the postgraduate market also developed in the Czech Republic, he said.

“The general outlook is not that bad,” he said, underlining that the British Ambassador appeared on TV in the Czech Republic to reassure any safety concerns.

Could the long-term impact of Brexit be better visa policy settings for international students?

Could the long-term impact of Brexit be better visa policy settings for international students?

But he said that looking beyond the two-year mark, if loan funding ceased to be available, “then most students will disappear, only the well-off clients will remain”.

“In Denmark it’s free to study, in Sweden and Holland, you pay [low fees],” Kysilka added, noting that the appeal of Scandinavian destinations will increase if the UK becomes too expensive, as will Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“In the last year and a half, we have seen a lot of interest in [higher education] study in the UK,” he said, “and UK institutions have spent an enormous amount of money on marketing, which has been wasted in a way [if funding ceases].”

“But in an economic sense, I am optimistic. I hope the UK will remain tied to the EU economically and through education.”

At SI-UK, another education counselling company with offices in multiple countries including the UK, Orion Judge, co-founder and global operations director, concurred with Kysilka that the “prime concern for EU students is the issue of funding of their studies”.

“SI-UK has sent out an email to all our EU students to let them know that Jo Johnson has assured EU students that funding and status will continue as normal for at least the next two years,” he said.

“Prime concern for EU students is the issue of funding of their studies”

He agreed too that in South America, “Brexit has actually been welcomed there”, but he forecast a long-term “dampening effect” on enrolment at university level “unless the government comes out to support the sector with an initiative such as a two-year post-study work visa.”

In India, this same hope was echoed by Natasha Chopra, managing director at The Chopras, one of the biggest education counselling companies in the country, placing over 10,000 students annually.

Our own reading is that once Brexit actually is a reality – and that is some two or more years away – as a consequence EU student traffic to British universities will dry up and institutions will be desperate to make up the lost revenue / seats and the pressure on the government of the day will be intense enough for them to reconsider the entire student visa and work opportunities policy,” she told The PIE News.

In the short-term, however, she signalled concern that students are changing their study plans because of safety concerns in the immediate aftermath of Brexit.

“We have had a number of students across the country raise their concerns. These range from racial tensions that we are all reading about as well as the impact on internationalisation of UK campuses,” she said.

“A number of students who were supposed to confirm UK as their study destination choice are taking up other offers from countries such as Singapore and Australia. This is really not good news and is now becoming a worrisome scenario.”

In South Korea, a spokesperson for agency TheUhak told The PIE News that with Brexit seen as a step to protect the rights of British citizens, “the uncertainty of getting a job will be increased for international students” and despite study costs decreasing, they ventured, “the total attraction of studying in UK is decreasing.”

Back in Europe, Barbara Jaeschke, owner of GLS Sprachenzentrum in Germany commented that for short-term outbound study, no real change was expected. “We have got a lot of emails from partners with assuring messages saying that nothing will change for at least three years and I have to agree,” she said, explaining that in her company’s case, having pre-bought pounds, “we can’t reduce the price from one day to the other but programmes will be cheaper for next season.”

• Additional reporting by Jiwon Chun.

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