New Delhi: Amar Kumar, an engineer in Allahabad, does not follow global economics much, but he has been keeping a close watch on developments in the UK for the past four days.
Kumar believes that Brexit—the referendum that has taken the UK out of the European Union—and the resultant depreciation of the pound may help his daughter when she applies for a postgraduate course in life sciences in the UK next year.
“While planning for studying abroad, one has to plan a year in advance and I feel the Brexit gives us an opportunity to evaluate the situation better. What we are asking around is whether the course fee will be relatively less costly due to the depreciation of the pound,” he said.
Experts say that while the short-term impact on education may be limited, in the medium term, Indian students in the UK will spend less with the pound depreciating against other currencies. The student visa restrictions as well as post-study work visa rules may also be relaxed as the flow of European Union students into the UK will slow down and British institutions face a funding crunch.
After the referendum result on Friday, the pound plummeted as much as 11% against the dollar before recovering slightly.
“In the near term, I don’t see any major impact either ways to the number of Indian students wishing to study in the UK. It may hit sentiment marginally but that would be more than compensated by the fact that the fee is now 10% cheaper, making it more affordable to many,” said Suneet Singh Kochar, an education consultant helping students get admission in UK universities.
Kochar said a continuously weakening pound could make the UK much more price competitive than Australia and the US. The number of UK study visas issued (excluding student visitors) to Indians plummetted from a peak of 68,238 in the 12 months ended June 2010 to 11,864 in June 2015, according to UK government data.
“Brexit may reverse this trend to some extent considering the fall in the British pound. The fall will make UK a cheaper destination compared to Australia or US, especially for students interested in pursuing a part of their twinning programme in UK universities,” said Radhakrishna Aithal, director, International Centre for Applied Sciences, at Manipal University in Karnataka.
But in the medium to longer term, the key is how the policies would be in relation to their treatment of EU students. At the moment, EU students studying in UK get the benefit of a subsidized fee.
“Nearly 27% of all international students studying in the UK are from the EU, who pay less than non-EU international students. Once EU students no longer get access to subsidized fee, the incentive to come to the UK will drop as they would prefer going to universities in mainland Europe, say France and Germany. This would mean that UK universities may be left with a glaring hole in terms of both number of students and revenue,” Kochar explained.
In fact, an association of UK universities wrote an open letter to British voters in the run-up to the referendum that they should not vote for an exit, expressing concern over Brexit’s negative impact on education.
“Every year, universities in UK generate over £73 billion for the UK economy—£3.7 billion of which is generated by students from EU countries, supporting nearly 380,000 jobs. Strong universities benefit the British people—creating employable graduates and cutting-edge research discoveries that improve lives,” said the open letter published in The Independent newspaper. Besides student fees, EU countries support UK universities through research funding.
Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, an association of universities in the country, said on their website that “leaving the EU will create significant challenges”.
Kochar said, “This may push UK to look for students from other countries to compensate for this drop in numbers and India would be a natural partner for it in this—both for the volume it can offer and for the general zeal for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses within Indian students. However, to do that, it (the UK) would have to make its policies friendlier.”