Brexit impact on business courses threatens university finances

The impact of Brexit on the UK's most popular subject at university could threaten university finances and the long term sustainability of business schools. New figures released today show that applications from the EU to study business at British universities have fallen as a direct consequence of Britain's decision to leave the European Union.

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The impact of Brexit on the UK’s most popular subject at university could threaten university finances and the long term sustainability of business schools. New figures released today show that applications from the EU to study business at British universities have fallen as a direct consequence of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The annual survey of business schools carried out by the Chartered Association of Business Schools (Chartered ABS) reveals that 40% of universities have seen a decline in applicants from the EU to their undergraduate business courses. One in five schools reported an increase in the number of successful applicants from the EU failing to turn up at the start of this academic year.

Business students from the EU are estimated to contribute £1.3billion to the UK economy each year through course fees and off-campus spending. Despite £119million of the total going straight to universities in course fees, a third of business schools have reported their overall revenues have stopped growing or fallen in the last 12 months.

Professor Simon Collinson, Chair of the Chartered ABS, is concerned that the trends in student recruitment could prove a tipping point for university finances. “The high numbers of business students are a key source of revenue for universities and business schools produce research vital to unlocking Britain’s productivity.

“We are facing the prospect of a fall in EU students coinciding with the freeze on student fees and the longer-term threat of European universities recruiting the international students that underpin our finances. We must avoid this perfect storm pushing business school finances over the edge and causing damage to our universities.”

Universities are also witnessing a talent drain of highly-qualified business academics. Not only have one in six business schools already lost EU staff, a quarter are struggling to recruit new staff from the EU, who are essential to preparing business students to work in an international business environment.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: “This survey highlights the increasingly urgent need to provide clarity on the future visa regime for European staff and students and the rights of current EU nationals working at our universities.

“The UK Government must ensure that the UK continues to welcome, with minimal barriers, talented EU staff and students. EU students and staff make an enormously important contribution to UK universities and our business schools. We have to make them feel welcome here, or risk losing them to competitor countries.”

Business schools are drawing on the very expertise they teach by seeking to adapt and do ‘business’ elsewhere. Since the EU referendum 40% have already secured research partners outside of the EU and 60% are targeting new student markets outside of EU. In the UK, half of business schools are already offering or plan to offer apprenticeships at degree and Master’s levels.

The Chartered ABS too are encouraging business schools to respond proactively to the threats they face from national policy, global trends and shifting students’ expectations. Today, the association have published ‘Rethinking Business Education’ – a collection of articles from business leaders and policy-makers looking at how business education and research can remain relevant in an unpredictable business and economic climate disrupted by nationalism, social inequality and rapid technological innovation.

Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, supports the approach taken by many business schools to teach future leaders. “As virtually every business on the planet tries to exploit or deal with digital transformation, case studies need to present hyper-relevant, real-time scenarios, rather than lessons in how to tackle the business problems of the past.”

Alec Cameron, vice-chancellor of Aston University, suggests academics should seek to produce more research for business leaders rather than for other academics. “A refocus of research on business practice could prove to be the saviour of both business schools and their parent universities.”

Business school graduate and successful entrepreneur, Cameron Stevens, founder of Prodigy Finance, recognises that if current student visa restrictions and Brexit negotiations don’t deliver a settlement which encourages international students to study in the UK, the effects will be felt by both universities and employers. “International diversity is valuable to every company and every classroom. The appeal of local institutions in the UK will wane if they are unable to place their international graduates in local jobs as a result of protectionist government policies.”

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