Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Will Brexit Dent Doctoral Student Numbers?

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Will Brexit Dent Doctoral Student Numbers?

Article excerpt

Some think the referendum result may harm the UK's ability to compete for the world's best PhD students. Jack Grove writes

Experts remain divided on the crucial question of whether Brexit will lead to a fall in international student numbers in the UK, but nowhere does this risk carry potentially more impact than in the country's doctoral education market.

While non-UK nationals represent a sizeable 15 per cent of full-time undergraduates, they account for just over half (51 per cent) of those pursuing full-time postgraduate research degrees - with 42,715 foreign students working towards a doctorate, according to latest Higher Education Statistics Agency figures.

But will the decision to leave the European Union really deter significant numbers of PhD students from studying in the UK?

The loss of academic networking opportunities across the European Union as a result of Brexit might cause some of the brightest and best PhD students to think twice about choosing the UK, believes Alistair McCulloch, head of research education at the University of South Australia.

"Doctoral students in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects may also pay great attention to the likelihood of postdoctoral positions not being available once they graduate," said Professor McCulloch, a former dean of research and knowledge at Edge Hill University.

"The withdrawal of the UK from the EU would put at risk the £1.2 billion a year that the UK receives from the EU's research programmes, which support a significant number of these positions," he continued.

Recent reports of low-level racist abuse in the wake of the Brexit vote might also tarnish the UK's image in what is a "very competitive global market" for PhD students, Professor McCulloch added.

"It will take only a very few serious xenophobically motivated incidents in the UK to impact significantly on international applications for PhD places, as Australia found to its cost when a number of Indian research students in Melbourne were subject to racially motivated attacks a few years ago," he said.

Professor McCulloch said he believed that, following the UK's decision to exit the EU, many Australian universities would step up efforts to lure PhD students keen to learn in an English-speaking country. …

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