Brexit will, of course, lead to a crash in the number of foreign students coming to racist, xenophobic Britain. We know this because the Guardian keeps telling us so. To quote one headline in the paper from April: “Vice-chancellors urge action to stop predicted 60 per cent fall in EU students”. The story went to quote Prof Julia Black, pro vice-chancellor for research at the LSE, who said: “It is hard to model how many students would pay fees 50 per cent higher when they could be taught in English in other countries for less or for free. We know from research studies that these European students just want to study in another country, so it doesn’t have to be Britain.”
But if there is any reason for foreign students not to come to study in Britain, it is the questionable quality of education research at the LSE, not Brexit. Figures released by UCAS this morning show that the number of applications from the EU for undergraduate courses is up two per cent. Those who have applied have not been dissuaded from applying by the prospect of paying higher fees after Brexit (at present EU students at English universities pay the same as UK-resident students), nor by some vague fear that they will be less welcome. As for the number of applications from non-EU students (who currently pay higher fees than UK or EU nationals), they rose by six per cent to a record 75,380.
The collapse in foreign students is yet one more narrative from Project Fear which has failed to materialise, along with the collapse in the number of EU nationals working in the NHS (which has risen since the referendum), the 500,000 rise in unemployment predicted by the Treasury and the recession that never was.
Even more remarkably, the higher education sector is booming in spite of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ which has made life so much more difficult for students outside the EU. That is something which does need fixing. Today’s figures show the potential to grow higher education still further – by encouraging students to apply rather than trying to deter them. Higher education is exactly the sort of growing export industry (while the students might be physically coming to Britain it is the direction of the money which makes it an export) we are going to need as we seek to outgrow a sluggish EU economy.