De Montfort tours Europe to limit Brexit damage

V-c says overseas students feel UK is ‘diminished country’ post-referendum

August 17, 2016
Backpacker hiking in forest
Source: Alamy

De Montfort University has launched a tour across Europe to reassure prospective international students that they are still welcome to study in the UK.

Dominic Shellard, the university’s vice-chancellor, said that he will visit five European capital cities by the end of August as part of the institution’s Love International campaign. The initiative was launched after the UK’s Brexit vote to reassert that the university is supportive of European Union students and staff.

Professor Shellard said that each visit will consist of a presentation about the university, a discussion about the impact of Brexit and a Q&A session with international alumni who have since returned to their respective home countries after studying at De Montfort. The tour will take in Nicosia, Warsaw, Stockholm, Vilnius and Berlin.

Speaking to Times Higher Education after the second event in Warsaw, Professor Shellard said that he was inspired to launch the tour after 800 staff and students turned up to an impromptu meeting organised by the university about Brexit on the day the referendum result was announced. De Montfort has more than 800 EU students, including 234 from Poland.

Professor Shellard said that a Polish student approached him after the meeting asking him to write a letter confirming that the student was still able to return to the institution after the summer break.

The student, Professor Shellard continued, had said: “‘I’m going home to Warsaw at the end of this week, but because of the vote yesterday I’m going to need a letter from you to get through the border at Heathrow airport to let me back into the country.’

“And I suddenly thought, ‘Crikey, this is a firmly held belief by this student; he’s obviously really worried about the implications of Brexit, and we need to now think practically about what we can do to reassure staff and students.’ If that student on our campus felt he was going to be barred entry, what will the prospective students feel?”

Professor Shellard said that during his talk in Warsaw he highlighted that the depreciation of the pound since the referendum now makes UK higher education “very good value for money”. Among the questions that prospective students have raised are whether they will receive loans for courses starting in September 2017 and why Boris Johnson has been appointed foreign secretary.

The vice-chancellor added that attendees tended to fall into three categories: those who were relieved by the reassurance; those who wanted to “get into the mind of Theresa May”; and those who wanted to discuss recent incidents of hate crime against Poles in the UK.

“There have been some tricky questions. People feel the UK is a diminished country because of this,” he said.

“I’m completely convinced this [tour] is necessary to continue our research collaboration, recruitment of high-quality EU students and the creation of academic collaborations that are the lifeblood of British universities. There was a sense that the UK is going to cut itself adrift. We must do what we can to counter that notion.”

Professor Shellard added that De Montfort has frozen fees for EU students starting in 2017 and 2018, but until the government confirms that the same loans will be available for these students “all bets are off” over whether applications will remain stable.

A recent survey conducted by the student recruitment and retention solutions company Hobsons found that 41 per cent of prospective overseas students are less likely to choose a UK university following the referendum.

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