Weak Pound Boosts Appeal of British MBA Programs

Brexit has failed to dampen crucial overseas demand for the country’s business schools, helped by economic forces

Six years on from the referendum and nearly three years after the UK’s departure from the EU, Brexit has failed to dampen crucial overseas demand for the country’s business schools and their flagship MBA programs.

At the time of the Brexit vote, deans voiced their fears that the UK’s exit from the 27-member bloc would lead to a downturn in demand for MBAs. That was because of the political instability over Brexit and a more hostile immigration regime in the UK at that time.

However, these fears appear to have been overblown. “Demand for places has remained strong, in line with the quality of programs offered by leading UK business schools,” says Aram Karakashian, director of recruitment at Imperial College Business School in London. Rather than dipping, applications to Imperial’s full-time MBA last year increased by 13 percent.

According to the latest figures from the Graduate Management Admission Council, which runs MBA entrance exams, 53 percent of prospective students indicated the UK as their preferred destination to study. The UK’s capital, London, has been consistently voted as the best student city in the world.

Brexit redirects international student flows 

Brexit has reshaped international student flows into the UK. The referendum has impacted those coming to the UK from the EU, who are now classified as international rather than domestic students. This change means EU students are now charged the same tuition fee rates as those from elsewhere in the world, which are much higher than what home students pay.

“Whilst the change has impacted Europeans who have lost the freedom of movement, Brexit has created a level playing field for international students,” says Karakashian. “We have seen an increase in demand from regions such as Latin America and Africa.”

The 2019 reintroduction of the two-year, post-study work visa for overseas graduates from UK universities has boosted the inflows of students from further afield beyond Europe. “It is a crucial tool that has allowed the UK to remain attractive to international students,” Karakashian says. “It is a major contributing factor, which has driven the demand for places.”

Dimitris Paraskevopoulos, director of the full-time MBA at Bayes Business School (formerly Cass) agrees. “With the re-introduction of the post-study work visa, the UK is a more attractive option rather than, say, the US,” he says. “In our conversations with MBA candidates, some seem far more aware of this re-introduction than others.”

Based in the heart of the City of London financial district, applications to the MBA at Bayes have remained steady post Brexit. “Brexit isn’t the main driver when considering the school,” Paraskevopoulos says. “Candidates main focus will always be whether a program and school are right for them.”

Economic factors key in study destination choice 

Economic factors are featuring increasingly highly in the choice of study destination for international students. The falling value of the pound, amid soaring inflation and a strong US dollar, have further boosted the appeal of British MBA programs.

“This is the case particularly for students from the US,” says Stela Ivanova, director of the MBA in International Management at ESCP Business School’s London campus. The prices of European MBA programs tend to be lower than their US counterparts, especially those that are of a one-year duration, which is far more common in Europe. This lowers the opportunity cost of being out of work to study and boosts the overall return on investment in the MBA degree, compared to studying in the US. 

“Hence for a US citizen it is financially more attractive to spend one year in Europe, especially now that the US dollar is stronger,” Ivanova says.

However, she insists that price shouldn’t be the only consideration that students look for when deciding on their chosen school to study. MBA applicants will often look at other criteria including the reputation of the school and country and how all these factors may help meet their future career goals.

The popularity of UK business schools remains despite Brexit partly because of the strong global reputation of the British education system. Imperial’s Karakashian notes that UK institutions have continued to perform strongly across all major business education rankings. “Studying at a UK business school remains a desirable choice for international students,” he says.

As well as their economic contribution to business schools, overseas students also contribute to the diversity of perspectives in the classroom, which can enhance learning outcomes for all the participants.

“UK business schools offer international students the opportunity to study alongside a culturally diverse cohort and thrive in a community that welcomes people from other countries,” Karakashian adds. 

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