Farah AbdulHadi was nine months into a full-time MBA at Warwick Business School when the Brexit vote happened. After moving from Palestine to the UK, she used her MBA experience to land a dream job at GE Healthcare in London.
But for many of her MBA colleagues that year, finding a job wasn’t easy. With Brexit, Farah says her international classmates were forced to take lower-paid, lower-grade jobs than they had expected; many looked outside the UK.
“Out of the international students, I think just two of us got the opportunity to stay in the UK,” she recalls. “It was more difficult to find jobs, and I wouldn’t say that it’s getting any easier.”
The initial shock of Brexit hit business schools like a slap across the face. Business schools feared disaster; a loss of students, staff, and funding. In late 2016, almost half of over 9,000 international MBA applicants surveyed by GMAC said Brexit made them less likely to study in the UK.
Two years on from the EU Referendum, and offset by a falling pound, Brexit hasn’t had the dramatic effect on UK business school applications that some predicted.
A new study by CarringtonCrisp, released this month, recorded that the popularity of the UK as a study destination has gone up post-Brexit. The study shows the UK has increased its popularity among international business students by almost 10% in the past year.
John Colley, associate dean for the Warwick MBA, says 2017 saw applications to the school increase by 80%. 2018 has already seen a 12% rise. Warwick will run two concurrent classes of full-time MBA students for the first time later this year.
John accepts Brexit uncertainty has caused some problems for students seeking jobs in the UK, but he insists that Warwick MBAs have healthy prospects internationally. He says 10 of the 18 non-EU students in Farah’s MBA class of 2016, who were looking for jobs, found new jobs in the UK and Europe.
“Although the Leave vote will pose challenges to be overcome, the UK’s universities have a world-class reputation. Warwick Business School will remain a very attractive place for students to study and for staff to work,” John continues.
“Applications for the full-time MBA have been unaffected by the Brexit vote. We literally have applications from all over the world and the price is the same for all those applying so it should not be a problem for anybody to get a student visa.”
When Brexit hit, Angus Laing, dean of Lancaster University Management School, expected Armageddon. “The surprising this is that it hasn’t turned out that way,” he says. “We’ve not seen a reduction in our international student numbers. In fact, numbers have increased.”
At King’s Business School, established in August 2017, applications are up and programs are oversubscribed. The school has also recently recruited academic staff from continental Europe. “People want to come to London for many reasons and Brexit is only one factor influencing their decision,” says Stephen Bach, the school’s dean.
Outside London, at the University of Exeter Business School, Brexit has had little effect on MBA applications. The Exeter MBA doesn’t have a history of recruiting large numbers of EU students. For MBA director, Stuart Robinson, visas and work permits are bigger issues than Brexit.
“It’s just something you have to deal with,” he explains. “I was at an MBA fair in Asia, and Canadian schools were there saying: ‘you can come to Canada and we’ll give you an 18-month work visa after your MBA’. Here, we won’t do that, and that’s a problem.
“In all my discussions with candidates,” he continues, “Brexit has never come up. Why would a Chinese student care about Brexit? A lot of them aren’t after a career here anyway.”
Naturally, the effect of Brexit on business schools varies across the UK. Zoe Radnor, dean of the University of Leicester School of Business, says EU student numbers have dropped although international applications have held firm overall. Her biggest issue is on the faculty-side.
“I’ve lost about half a dozen staff, and applications from EU staff have dropped dramatically. They’re worried about the uncertainty around visas; around their own future.”
Outside the UK, it’s a similarly murky picture. After the Leave vote, some mainland European business schools were chomping at the bit over Brexit, readying to pick off students and staff previously bound for the UK. For non-UK business schools, Brexit only brought good things.
Two years on, Anne Sinnott, dean of Dublin City University Business School, says the reality is different. She’s seen the school attract UK students who would have previously stayed in the UK. She’s seen a huge number of UK-based staff applying for professorships—around a 33% increase in the past year.
But there are problems too. “While Ireland may become a magnet for talented academics and researchers, UK and Irish research institutions collaborate extensively. There are more than 900 collaborative links between Irish and UK researchers under EU Horizon 2020,” Anne explains.
“If UK institutions and researchers can no longer access this funding, given the strong history of collaboration with UK universities in research this will impact Irish institutions [too].”
Most European business schools have reported an uplift in application numbers since Brexit, with more diverse pools of applicants putting different schools on their target lists. Even at WU Executive Academy, an Austria-based school offering part-time programs for experienced professionals, dean Barbara Stöttinger has seen a change.
“We are seeing more students coming in from more remote places,” she says. “On our current EMBA cohort, we have people from Japan, Korea, Egypt, and Argentina. We didn’t see such a diversity of nationalities in our previous cohorts to the same extent.”
Desi Schmitt, international relations director France’s Audencia Business School, has some sympathy for her fellow institutions across the English Channel.
“The reality is that nothing has changed for students [in the UK],” she says. “They benefit from everything they benefitted from before Brexit was voted. UK universities have not changed their policy for international student admissions and they continue to adhere to the Erasmus charter and in fact are exemplary in its application.
“[But] just like the stock market, [where] hearsay and rumors can make the stock go up or down, in our educational industry, one of the impacts that Brexit has had is that more international students are opting to study in continental Europe and therefore we have seen a notable increase in the past two years in international student admissions throughout our programs.”
For now, it’s the bad press and uncertainty associated with Brexit, rather than Brexit itself, which has impacted business schools across the UK and Europe. In 12 months’ time, after the UK officially leaves the EU on March 29th 2019, it could be a different story.