Friday, June 24, people around the world woke up to the news that the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Many people were shocked by the news, to say the least. The British pound plummeted, the stock markets went crazy, and the UK prime minster, David Cameron resigned from his position.

Since then however there has been an attempt at forcing a second referendum. This was a government petition created by someone who was a ‘leave’ campaigner. Government petitions require at least 100,000 signatures in order to be considered. This petition however was signed by over 4.1 million people! But the Foreign Office rejected the petition stating that the original decision to leave must be respected.

Although some time has passed since the Brexit vote, there is still a cloud of uncertainty about what will happen next. The only thing that is certain is that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. But before delving further into this subject, you must keep in mind that, the negotiations to officially leave the European Union will take up to two years. So for now you can rest assured that at this point in time, nothing will change.

What I am interested in finding out is how will this vote affect higher education in the United Kingdom. What does this vote mean for international students, that are already in the UK, or those that are planning to go there?

Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK, an organisation that represents universities in the United Kingdom, said that “Leaving the EU will create challenges for universities.” And that “this is not the outcome they wished or campaigned for.” Seeing as many university staff and students were in favor of ‘remain’, it is safe to say that they knew higher education in the UK will be affected negatively from a leave vote.

When looking at the impact that Brexit will have on international students; it is imperative to separate these students into two categories: Europeans and the rest of the world. Because the initial view is that European students will feel the effects of Brexit more than any other group.

Will the UK Still Attract International Students

But before looking at how Brexit will affect international students, let's look at how universities in the UK will be affected by Brexit. To answer this question, we could look at a poll taken before the votes were even cast. An international student survey by Hobsons, asked over 10,000 international students how they would view the UK should they leave the European Union. 48% said that the United Kingdom would be a less attractive destination should it leave. That’s almost half of the people surveyed. But again, breaking it down into European students and other international students. 80% of EU students said that the UK will be less attractive, compared with 35% of other international students. Currently UK universities receive funding from the EU, and although it is still not confirmed, many believe that they will lose this funding.

How Brexit Will Affect European Students

The current number of European students studying in the UK is almost 125,000. However the most important point to get across right from the beginning is that ‘all current and fall students will continue to receive loans/grants for the remainder of their courses’. EU students currently pay tuition fees at lower rates than international students, however the impending fear among these students is that this may not be so in future.

The Erasmus+, which is a European Union programme that is managed in the UK by the UK National Agency is a scheme that runs for 7 years, from 2014 until 2020. It allows UK students to study anywhere in Europe, as well as train and gain valuable experience. It’s a program that obviously requires cooperation from both the UK and EU, and it is yet to be confirmed by both leaders how this programme will be affected. The only thing that is confirmed for now is that there will be no immediate effects and students can sign up to these programs as they normally would.

How Brexit will Affect International Students

The three countries that have the most students studying in the UK are China, India, and the United States. Based on the same aforementioned Hobsons study, the UK could expect to lose more than 20,000 students from China, and 4500 students from both India and the US.

Many international students choose a destination of study with the hopes of eventually living and working there. However seeing as there may be further curbs on immigration, it may be even more difficult for international students to stay in the UK after they finish their studies. (This is also a concern for EU students.)

When looking at costs, international students will still pay the same as they normally would. But here is an interesting scenario, if the British pound remains weak when compared to the international students’ home country, student might actually get to pay a lower price if they are paying their tuition in pounds. This silver-lining however has a dark cloud apparently, because if that is the case, universities might raise tuition fees to compensate for this loss. Again, this is still hypothetical at this point.

In conclusion, both EU and international students will worry about the difficulty of getting into the UK and staying there or getting a job after finishing their studies. EU students, and to some extent international students, will worry about tuition fees going up.

On one bright note, Scotland as a nation overwhelmingly voted to remain, and there are talks of Scotland splitting from the United Kingdom and rejoining the European Union as an independent nation. Of course, this is all hypothetical now, but for those dreaming of living in an English speaking country and studying in a British institution, they might find salvation in an independent Scotland.