European mobility rebounds post-COVID, not for UK students

Student mobility across Europe has rebounded after COVID, but Brexit has significantly reduced opportunities for students from the United Kingdom, the QS Higher Education Summit: Europe 2023 in Dublin, Ireland, was told this week.

“Today, almost 40% of school leavers globally enter university, with 6.4 million students choosing to study abroad, and hundreds of thousands more choosing to study with foreign universities based in their own countries,” said Professor Nigel Healey, vice president for global and community engagement at the University of Limerick in Ireland and chair of the QS Global Advisory Committee.

A number of contributors lamented the vote for Brexit in the UK, which Healey described as one of the worst peacetime failures of public policy-making.

“Brexit severed the UK’s ties with European partner universities by excluding them from the Erasmus+ mobility programme (worth €26 billion [US$28 billion] over the period 2021-27) and, at least for now, the huge Horizon Europe research programme (worth €96 billion over the same 2021-27 period),” he said.

He added: “For Irish universities pre-Brexit, our teaching and research were closely integrated with the UK sector.

“It is true that Ireland has benefited in some ways from the UK’s departure. As the only English-speaking country in the EU, with very strong research-intensive universities, Irish universities have been seen as the default replacements for EU networks losing UK partners.

“But the close relationship between Irish and UK universities has been adversely impacted by Brexit and there is much work to do to find new ways of working together,” he added.

Brexit ‘hugely damaging’

Beverley Orr-Ewing, director of the Centre for Study Abroad at the University of Bristol in England, said she would love to see more representation from Europe in her university. Brexit has been hugely damaging to its European Study Abroad programme.

“In Bristol we have a large School of Modern Languages. We have to have links in Europe – they are incredibly important to us,” she said, and went on to outline some of the ways in which the university is trying to deepen links not just in Europe but in the United States and elsewhere.

Jacqui Jenkins, global lead for international student mobility and marketing at the British Council, said the UK is still talking about increasing the number of overseas students but not necessarily about increasing its market share because of issues such as high accommodation costs.

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