EU recruitment woes push business schools towards ‘tipping point’

Forty per cent of UK business schools report fall in undergraduate applications from the Continent

November 6, 2017
Going out of business sign
Source: Alamy

Four out of 10 UK business schools have reported a decline in applications for undergraduate courses from European Union students, according to a survey that has triggered warnings that any fall in revenues could have a significant impact on universities’ bottom lines.

A survey of 89 business schools, conducted by the Chartered Association of Business Schools and published to coincide with the start of the organisation’s annual conference on 6 November, found that 39.4 per cent of respondents reported a drop in the number of EU undergraduate applications for courses beginning this autumn. Only 28.8 per cent reported a rise in the wake of the UK’s vote to leave the EU.

Nearly one in five business schools (18.2 per cent) also reported an increase in the number of EU undergraduates not turning up for the start of their studies.

For just over a third (36.7 per cent) of business schools, fees paid by EU students represent between 11 per cent and 40 per cent of income, the survey reveals. For nearly two-thirds (60.3 per cent), they represent less than 10 per cent.

Non-EU students typically contribute a greater proportion of income: for more than four in 10 schools (43.3 per cent), they account for in excess of 30 per cent of total income.

Undergraduate recruitment in this area was mixed: 40.3 per cent of respondents reported a decline in international applications, but 37.1 per cent said that they had seen an increase.

About one in eight of all undergraduates currently choose to study business, making it the most popular subject at UK universities.

Simon Collinson, deputy pro vice-chancellor for regional economic engagement at the University of Birmingham and chair of Cabs, said that business schools were “substantial earners” when compared with other parts of universities such as medical schools, which he said “just about break even”. The large number of non-EU students in business schools are particularly lucrative because of the higher fees that they pay – typically between £18,000 and £24,000 for a master’s degree.

“We could be at quite a tipping point where revenues will start at some point to decline,” Professor Collinson said.

This would be a concern for the “quite a few” institutions that are “reliant on the extra revenue bought in by business schools”, he continued, citing as examples the universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Warwick.

One in three business schools said that their revenue had either declined (11.4 per cent) or stayed at a similar level (22.7 per cent) to last year, while two-thirds (65.9 per cent) reported an increase in income.

At postgraduate level, 30.2 per cent of business schools said that the number of applications from the EU had fallen, with 31.7 per cent reporting an increase. Most business schools (60.3 per cent) reported an increase in non-EU applications for postgraduate courses, although 28.6 per cent saw a decline.

Alongside the threat posed by Brexit, Professor Collinson said that emergence of cheaper courses taught in English on the Continent could erode overseas student numbers at UK business schools.

“Over the next year or two, I think they will start attracting the Indians and the Chinese who usually come to the UK for a management education,” he added.

holly.else@timeshighereducation.com

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