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Brexit prompts widespread falls in demand for engineering

Engineering departments in non-Russell Group universities in the UK are reporting widespread falls in the number of overseas students following the UK's EU referendum vote, according to a survey by the Engineering Professors’ Council.

The findings reveal that, while most Russell Group universities saw increases in international students, other UK engineering departments experienced significant losses.

The ‘Early Enrolments Survey’, which provides the first snapshot of numbers of new engineering students long before official figures are published, is conducted annually by the Engineering Professors’ Council, the body representing engineering in UK higher education.

The EPC’s Early Enrolment Survey 2016 included data from 56 different universities and 100 departments and faculties (of which 43 are in Russell Group universities) across various engineering disciplines such as mechanical, electrical and civil engineering.

For undergraduate courses, the majority of engineering departments in Russell Group universities recorded gains in non-EU students, with a quarter reporting increases of over 10 per cent. Out of 40 departments, just three recorded falls.

Meanwhile, in other universities, more than one in three departments (36.4 per cent) experienced a drop in non-EU students, compared to just one in eight (seven out of a total of 55) reporting increases. Nine universities said they had falls of over 10 per cent.

In both groups of universities, similar patterns were reflected in the numbers of non-EU postgraduate students. However, there was a stark contrast with the numbers of UK and EU students, which had risen in most cases.

The falls in international students might be attributed to concerns over Brexit. Some departments have reported international students expressing concerns over whether the UK is still a welcoming destination for them. The trend may also reflect increased competition from universities in other countries.

Traditionally, engineering courses have been among the UK’s most attractive courses for international students. Non-EU students pay higher tuition fees than UK and EU students and so are critical to the economic model of engineering departments, where the cost of running courses tends to exceed the fees received from UK students.

Professor Stephanie Haywood, President of the EPC, commented:

“It’s encouraging that our elite universities are continuing to attract international students, but these figures are extremely troubling for the wider diversity of our higher education system. That’s not just bad news for individual engineering departments that rely on international students, but for the whole country which is facing a severe shortage in engineering skills.

“Attracting the brightest and best young engineers from all over the world has long been key to British strengths in innovation and industry. If the UK is a less welcoming place, we will face a cost.”

The Early Enrolment Survey 2016 is published today at the EPC’s annual Recruitment and Admissions Forum, hosted at the Institute of Mechanical Engineering.

jegas / 123RF