UK experts propose “Scholarship Office” for EU students

“None of us are talking about Brexit as much as we should be at the moment,” noted HEPI director Nick Hillman.

“All the best economic modelling [suggests] that incoming EU student numbers will more than halve”

“All the best economic modelling [suggests] that incoming EU student numbers will more than halve”

Around a third of international students in the UK come from EU countries, a statistic sometimes overlooked as EU students are able to access the same fee and loan system as domestic students, observed UUKi’s Vivienne Stern.

However, the government confirmed in June that from 2021 onwards EU students will be subject to the same fees as other international students and no longer have access to government loans.

“My sense is that it’s possible to recover our position over time. But we’re going to have to work for it,” said Stern.

Among proposals to keep the UK attractive to international students, Stern suggested an “EU Scholarship Office” offering scholarships similar to the GREAT Scholarships program for students from China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand.

“We need a scholarship offer in Europe. I’d like that to be one that the UK sector can co-invest with government to deliver,” she continued.

“We need to up our game when it comes to promoting the UK. The Study UK campaign, which is delivered by the British Council, is a step in the right direction. But frankly, it needs rocket boosters and it needs to be funded to operate in Europe, where it isn’t operating at the moment.”

“We need to up our game when it comes to promoting the UK”

The UUKi director also discussed looking into “innovative finance mechanisms” to help with the upfront cost of study, pointing to the fact that “lots of international students take loans to cover its fees”.

“Why couldn’t we do something to make those loans really attractive through something that we do either at the national level or with government?” she asked.

Taking a more optimistic look at other factors, Shan Chopra, chief brand and community partner at India-based TC Global, called the UK “the big winner”, citing political issues in the US that may put people off studying there.

“Overall, we’ve seen strong sentiment amongst students. The demand side shock was limited. We had a lot of supply side shocks, plus shutdowns, restrictions and uncertainty,” he said.

Endorsing Stern’s suggestion for innovative financing models, he added, “The aspiration and ambition to study internationally and in the UK is very strong. It’s encouraging to see that students continue to still apply and translate that into enrolments as well.”

Earlier predictions warned of major drops in international student numbers due to Covid-19. This has yet to be borne out, although many international students are studying remotely either by their own choice or due to visa and transportation issues.

UCAS indicated that its undergrad applications from outside the EU were in fact up 9% year on year, although the sector remains braced to see what enrolment activity that translates into.

“What I worry about is whether dropout rates will go up,” commented Hillman. “We need to be really open and honest about the student experience because we don’t want people to get here and find it’s a little bit different to what they expected and go home disappointed.”

Rachel Sandison, vice principal of external relations at University of Glasgow, joining the panel, explained, “Our numbers are really pleasing. Our September intake is more buoyant than we had forecast.”

40-45% of new undergrads were starting in-country at University of Glasgow

Sandison explained the university remained pleased it took an early decision to delay start dates for over 80 of its most popular postgraduate courses. “The expectation is that we will have broadly similar numbers joining is in September and January.”

Of the postgrad cohort, 32% were starting their studies in-country in Scotland, and 40-45% of new undergrads were in-country, she revealed, so the majority were starting their studies in their own countries, “through choice or circumstance, with visa delays and transport issues still proving a little bit of a challenge.”

An appetite to do so, even for the Chinese market, was positive, Sandison noted.

At HEPI, Hillman warned that an extended crisis would be bad news, however. “The longer the crisis goes on, the more we have a big challenge on our hands. It will seem more normal to stay in your home country and do transnational education online,” he warned.

“[And] the longer the crisis goes on, the bigger the scale of the global recession, which means people will have less disposable income to spend on education, and the less connected, sadly, we will become as a world.”

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