An article in The i on Friday revealed statistics which show students from other EU countries are starting to view the UK as a ‘no-go zone’ for higher education. As the article points out, the UK economy stands to lose out in this situation, but in fact it could have much deeper consequences.
Our universities are already complaining of difficulties in providing services and of restricted budgets, which seems to have been part of the rationale for £9,000 per year tuition fees. As we have seen, this has already resulted in a drop in the number of UK applicants – however much the universities claim it’s down to demographic statistical changes. If they are also driving away foreign students (who are arguably more affluent or at least more willing to spend more on their education), then their future looks to be even more precarious.
If we also consider the continuing trend against modern language courses in our HE establishments, then our standing in the EU could be further damaged. My undergraduate degree in French was closed to new entrants the year after I started, in 2007; and my MA Translation at the University of the West of England has met a similar fate. Despite being a highly successful and respected course, described as the ‘flagship MA’ of UWE, in 2011 the decision was taken to close it.
It’s clear to all involved that the UK government seems to want to be part of, but apart from, the EU family. The contempt that is held for EU regulation and ‘excessive bureaucracy’ is barely veiled most of the time, and we risk severing the tenuous ties we still have to mainland Europe. I have been a foreign student, and I think foreign student populations are not only one of the best ways to foster lasting ties between nationalities, but also one of the best ways to understand the politics and mindset of those we will do business with in the future.
No man is an island – and even though geographically we might be, as a global power we cannot behave as though we are. Our saving grace may be the increasing numbers of British students seeking better value education and a cultural experience elsewhere in Europe.