On January 31st 2020, the United Kingdom officially left the European Union and entered into a ‘transition phase’ that would last until 1st January 2021.
As the clock struck midnight, it marked one of the most decisive moments of the country’s history. The Brits had voted to part ways with their biggest political and trade allies, plunging their future into uncertainty and doubt.
One of the communities that has felt the greatest impact is that of international students, who play such an important role in the UK economy – both as students and later in employment. Many UK universities are reliant on international students in a financial sense, for they help fill courses that would otherwise be subject to a lack of applicants.
But what is Brexit? How does it affect international students studying in the UK? Will it be harder to attain a job after Brexit?
What is Brexit? Why did people vote for it?
In June 2016, the United Kingdom voted decisively to leave the European Union after decades of debate. The result came as somewhat of a shock, though many pollsters and political commentators had feared that it would be the case.
The decision presents a range of new challenges for both the UK government and its citizens, but also those seeking to enter and study in the country.
What is the European Union?
The European Union is a political alliance of 27 European countries; its roots can be traced back to the late 1940s in wake of the aftermath of the second World War.
One of the key aspects of the EU had been its freedom of movement policy, allowing citizens the right to study, work, and live anywhere within the economic area VISA-free. With this now being revoked in the UK on the 1st January 2021, many questions and problems arise.
What changes in relation to my studies?
As a student looking to study in the UK from outside of the European Union, Brexit may actually make your chances of finding a place even easier to some extent.
It is very likely that we will see all international students, both from inside and outside of the EU, applying through the same system, regardless of their home country. As such, students will not be given preferential treatment owing to their European Union citizenship; they will, instead, be forced to compete with those applying from across the globe.
If you are an EU student, though, very little will change – other than there being more competition for places.
VISA-wise, EU students may need to apply for the settlement scheme to ensure they are able to remain in the country in the new year. Those EU students arriving after the 1st January 2020 will need to apply for a full UK student VISA – this is subject to a number of conditions, such as having a guaranteed place at a UK university; proof of funding to be able to study and support yourself; and meeting the relevant language requirements for your level of course (B1 under degree level; B2 degree and above).
With regards to language requirements, we are unlikely to see too many changes. The UK currently already demands a strong grasp of the English language to study – typically B2 for a degree course, though this may be higher at the university’s discretion – and with international students being a main source of funding for many institutions, they are unlikely to want to raise this. Do bear in mind, however, that with more competition for places, some universities may raise their language requirements at their own discretion.
If studying through an Erasmus scheme, much is yet to still be decided on the matter. Many UK universities are fighting hard to remain members of the Erasmus programme, despite their country’s decision to withdraw from all European projects. The vast majority of students are still eligible for the Erasmus grant when studying in the UK/vice-versa.
Will it be harder to get a job after graduating?
One of the key aspects of Brexit is a will to move more towards a points-based immigration system, based on the model currently in use in Australia. As such, graduates from outside of the EU – whether they be from UK or other universities – may actually find that Brexit greatly improves their chances of finding a job on British waters.
The government claim that VISA applications will likely be based far more on qualifications and hard skills rather than country of entry; more consideration will be given to those applying from outside of the European Union than before, making the playing field level for all.
As well, with the UK’s growing need to co-operate individually with countries outside of the European, many companies may actively seek to hire non-EU natives to diversify their workforce in regard to their new challenges.
That being said, do take into account that the UK economy is likely to shrink as a result of Brexit. Many large, international firms have already shifted their head offices from the likes of Manchester, London and Nottingham back onto the continent in aim of remaining under European rule.
The UK will still remain close allies with Europe politically and economically, meaning there will still be plenty of opportunities for EU-natives.
Will I still be able to remain in the UK after graduating?
As of Summer 2021, a new ‘Graduate Route’ scheme is being implemented to allow graduates the opportunity to remain and work in the UK upon completion of their degree. This will be subject to the same rules as before – two years of allowance for bachelors and masters graduates; three years of allowance for PhD graduates.
There will be various charges in relation to your application, such as one for the application itself, but also an Immigration Health Surcharge as a contribution to the National Health Service. More information on these can be found through the government’s website, for these are constantly being updated and changed as updates are made.
Will there be any changes to day-to-day university life?
Absolutely not. After the Coronavirus situation has resolved and UK universities are back to operating normally, it will seem as if very little has changed.
Brexit should by no means pose any worries or concerns to international students looking to come to the UK. There will certainly be more paperwork involved, but be assured that with international students being so important to both the universities themselves and the country as a whole, they will always be welcome.