UK Business Schools Retain Global Allure Despite Brexit

Visa reforms have made it easier for overseas students to work in the country after graduation

Despite the challenges stemming from Brexit, the UK remains a global force in business education.

Britain has maintained its reputation among MBA students as a good place to launch a global career, with its appeal boosted by visa reforms that have made it easier for overseas students to work in the country after graduation.

The two-year post-study work visa was reintroduced in 2019, delivering a major boost to Indian students in particular but expanding opportunities for international students from around the world to build successful careers in the UK.

“We have definitely seen boosts to application volumes from certain parts of the world. The draw of London and the graduate work visa is a fantastic combination that students can leverage,” says David Simpson, MBA recruitment and admissions director at the London Business School.

More than half the MBA class at LBS choose to work in the UK after graduation, supported by the careers team which has connections with employers and a strong alumni network in London. There is a high volume of global business conducted in the UK, most of it from the capital city and the south-east.

Brexit saga overblown

The Brexit saga initially caused concern that the EU exit could damage the British business education sector’s appeal to foreign talent, but Simpson suggests those fears are overblown. “We haven’t really seen any negative change in demand specifically due to Brexit,” he states.

Other schools are more downbeat on the impact of Brexit on MBA programs. “Generally speaking, Brexit has had a significant impact,” says Robyn Remke, MBA program director at Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) in northwest England.

The major problem is that most EU students now have to pay the same higher fees as international students, having previously been entitled to the lower fees enjoyed by British nationals. “European residents no longer benefit from a reduced fee structure to attend British MBA programs,” says Remke.

This has increased the appeal of MBA programs on the European continent. “Also, because many MBA programs at European universities are taught in English, British MBA programs do not have the linguistic advantage for those who want to study in English that we once enjoyed,” admits Remke.

But she insists that demand from elsewhere in the world for courses at LUMS remains strong, with the new graduate visa further enhancing the school’s appeal to overseas talent. Remke says the more welcoming immigration regime allows internationals to feel more settled into the UK quickly, while also delivering a financial benefit to them.

“The post-study work visa can serve to help potential MBA students to see the opportunity for a return on their investment by taking advantage of the salaries available in the UK compared to some of the developing economies,” Remke adds.

A global business hub

The UK has one of the strongest and more diverse economies in the world. The capital London remains a financial hub, and many large multinational companies call the UK home. In addition, small and medium-sized enterprises are the main driver for the UK economy, which provide a different work experience for graduates.

“By studying an MBA at a British university, students benefit from access to a ready-made network of business professionals and senior leaders around the world, helping them open doors with potential clients, find lucrative opportunities and close new deals,” says Remke.

On top of this, UK MBA programs have a lower opportunity cost than their counterparts in the US. This is due to a shorter duration (typically 12 months with some exceptions) and tuition costs that are competitive internationally. “Compared to two-year or US MBA programs, lower tuition and opportunity costs look enticing,” says US-based admissions consultant Stacy Blackman.

She adds that UK MBA programs are more global in nature, and more open to having larger percentages of international students, compared to even the most international US program. “They attract students who want a truly international experience with their education. They also attract professionals planning to work in Europe after their studies.”

However, there are some challenges for the UK business education sector on the horizon – including global competition from elsewhere in the world. “A more crowded, international market with new and emerging providers means that competitors will turn the heat up on leading UK universities, which in turn will need to continually improve their offer to students,” says Remke from LUMS.

That won’t be easy. For academic institutions with well-defined processes, strategies and rich histories, adapting quickly can be tricky as it can involve so many different departments and individuals. But Remke says the sector demonstrated its fortitude and resilience during the pandemic.

“Witnessing what was achieved by the business education sector and the wider business community during the Covid crisis, shows just what can be done. Now, it’s important that the learning from all institutions is captured and built upon.”

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