What Does Brexit Mean for Recruitment at UK Business Schools?

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016 the world suddenly looked very different for British universities. What this means for MBA programs is complex.

The Brexit vote set in motion events that have impacted the student visa system and wider economy in the UK. Institutions, students and teachers must contend with new regulations and funding arrangements. 

With these changes in motion, the question for many potential students is: after Brexit, should you do an MBA in the UK?

For international students deciding whether to complete an MBA at a British business school, Brexit means different criteria are in play. Many are drawn to the UK's universities, which maintain a strong global reputation.

The UK has already withdrawn from the European student exchange program, Erasmus, and fees for European students at some British business schools are now in line with other international students where they once mirrored domestic tuition rates.

According to Stephen Wyatt, professor of strategy and Leadership at Bath University School of Management, student recruitment from the EU has been “very limited for several years.” The school has increased recruiting efforts in the Middle East, Africa and South America, while continuing a focus on South and East Asia. So, in that sense, not a lot will change.

For faculty however, the picture is a little different. Previously, Bath had employed visiting academics from Europe to teach elective classes. But due to Brexit, this is changing, and the school will now need to rely more on faculty based in the UK.

The school continues to welcome students from the EU but is not actively recruiting in those markets. 

For business schools that do attract more students from within the EU, a fear has been that diversity within MBA programs might be diminished after Brexit.

Indeed, maintaining the diversity of the MBA cohort was one of the biggest concerns for the Warwick Business School (WBS), according to the school’s associate dean John Colley. However, Brexit may have helped that objective in a number of ways. 

For example, the devaluation of the British pound has made “UK courses relatively cheaper,” Colley says, and “we have actually seen an increase in applications since the referendum.”

Both WBS’ full-time MBA and distance learning MBA have experienced 20 percent rise in applications since pre-Brexit levels. The school offers various merit-based scholarships and need-based bursaries but has not made any changes to these funding avenues in light of Brexit. Britain’s decision to leave the EU may lead to WBS expanding its cohort.

“From our experience Brexit has not had a significant impact on MBA recruitment. In fact, the increasing demand is prompting  investigation of adding an additional cohort to our full-time MBA cohort and expanding our London distance learning MBA further,” Colley says.

MBA scholarships and post-study work visas

The fallout from Brexit is still being digested by UK business schools. Careful contingency planning, implemented over several years, means it is difficult to predict major changes impacting institutions or their students in the near term.

“We do not expect to see a significant change - we have and will continue to prioritize national diversity, gender diversity and background diversity,” Wyatt says.

Bath offers scholarships to support the most deserving students, regardless of nationality, with no plans to shift the policy in light of Brexit. “Our goal is to have a diverse cohort not to prejudice one or other student based on nationality,” Wyatt says.

The Covid-19 pandemic has presented logistical challenges for students across the British university system. Until last year, Bath offered a tour of Europe to students that is now on hold. In its place the school is offering a ‘Best of British’ tour visiting key research institutions and leading firms based in the UK. 

One of the big Brexit silver linings for international MBA students could be the changes to the British visa system. The new student visa that replaces the Tier 4 (General) student visa has a huge carrot for any international student considering studying in the UK - the ability to work in the country for two years after graduation. 

“The ability of the student to be able to work in the UK after graduation, whether or not they are from the EU, is a major plus,” Wyatt says. 

This two-year window stacks up very favorably when compared with the one-year Optional Training Program (OTP) offered in the US. The UK government, perhaps mindful of the need to attract international talent, has relaxed rules that were previously stringent. The result, for institutions and students, is clearly appealing. 

“The change to the two-year post-study work visa has made the UK more attractive, while the US has imposed tighter visa restrictions, which may also have aided us,”  says Warwick’s Colley.

Warwick University was founded in 1965, with WBS following two years later. Its various MBA programs are ranked in many of the global rankings publications.

“We have always had a global perspective and our main task in recruitment is clearly communicating that the UK is still very much open to all international students and recent relaxations in the visa system mean it is easier to study at Warwick,” Colley says.

“We have worked hard on our communication and marketing to make sure prospective students are aware that our commitment towards a culturally-diverse experience will continue,” Colley says. 

British business schools appear well-placed to weather any Brexit headwinds that may emerge in years to come. Rather than dwell on the challenges they are taking advantage of opportunities to further diversify their student body and become more global. 

“Brexit is not something WBS wanted, as we stand for openness and working in partnership with our European colleagues,” Colley says. “But we have mitigated the threats and are working to re-establish our research links with the continent. With hard work and a sense of collaboration we believe we can make sure Brexit has little or no impact on our reputation and ambition.”

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