Never mind the policy, read the headline

In Shanghai at a conference for more than 200 international business schools recently, I was asked on numerous occasions, ‘Brexit?  What were you thinking?’  One Dean said he had heard from an Australian colleague that instead of getting one good application from the UK for an academic vacancy, he was now getting 10 good applications.

And it’s not just academics who are impacted.  Amber Rudd MP, the British Home Secretary, speaking on the subject of immigration at the Conservative Party Conference in September. has been widely reported.  Whatever policy she thought she was announcing, the world’s media thought she was telling international students they weren’t welcome in the UK.

In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reported the speech with the headline, “The Tory government is shutting the UK's doors to international students and foreign workers”.  The Hindustan Times in India had the headline, “UK announces more curbs on visa; decision to hit Indian students, professionals”.  In Canada, a website reported ‘Crackdown on UK work visas, foreign students has been announced’ and in Zimbabwe, the Herald lead with ‘UK announces tighter rules for students’.  USA Today reported, “Rudd also announced new visa restrictions on college students from non-European Union countries in a bid to reduce their numbers, to the dismay of many students and academics” and Nigeria Today said “UK mulls new rules for foreign students’. 

Last year, Carrington Crisp worked with the UK’s Chartered Association of Business Schools on their report ‘UK Business Schools and International Recruitment’, which highlighted that the number of non-EU students in the UK in their first year of study was at a five-year low.  While university finances have been hit by this decline in student numbers, the loss extends far more widely.  The report stated that there has been “… a £133.5 million loss to university finances and their local economies”.

Those losses look set to grow.  While the drop in the value of the Pound will make a British degree cheaper relative to many competitors, it is unlikely that this will be enough to attract back those put off by the messages they are getting in their local media.  With Germany, Canada, China and many more offering teaching in English and an attractive student experience, the competition for UK business schools and universities to attract international students is set to intensify.  Canadian Finance Minister, Bill Morneau, announced recently that Canada will adopt a global skills strategy to speed up work permits and visas for foreign workers.

A cynic might suggest that Amber Rudd and the government have got exactly the press coverage they wanted in their bid to reduce immigration numbers.  However, the consequences of these headlines are likely to be far reaching for British higher education in an international market for students and staff that is increasingly competitive.