"People I don't know have decided my future," said Ewa Ferdynus, a first-year Photography student from Poland who is studying at Bournemouth University. This was Ewa's response when asked her thoughts concerning the UK's recent decision to leave the European Union (EU). Nonetheless, this concern is felt not only by Ewa, but also by students in many universities across the UK.
Britain's vote to exit the EU last week is expected to have considerable implications for the nation's education sector. Amid the uncertainty of the negotiation process between the UK and the EU over the next two years, it is difficult to predict what will happen to EU students in the UK. The most likely implication is a reduction in the number of EU students. In reality, however, there are currently around 125,000 EU students studying in several institutions in the UK, contributing approximately £3.7 billion pounds to the economy and creating 380,000 jobs.
The drop in the value of sterling has indeed presented an advantage for EU students planning to undertake their studies in the UK. However, the process to come to the UK will certainly become more complex, particularly when the planned restrictions on migrants are implemented. Potential students would have to endure different procedures and perhaps lose some of the benefits they currently enjoy.
As a result of such uncertainty, which is likely to last for the next few year, European students are more likely to choose non-UK universities, particularly those in Germany and the Netherlands, which also have excellent reputations.
This will impact significantly on UK universities whose revenues rely primarily on international students. Moreover, not only with regards to financial, students from the EU have helped improve the quality of UK higher education, since many arrive with a better educational background.
To overcome this possible reduction in EU-generated revenue, one effort that could be made by the UK government within the next few years is to expand into developing countries, such as those in Asia, to attract more international students; in particular, China, India and Indonesia.
Indeed, China is already the largest source of international students in the UK, with the number reaching 89,540 students in 2015. This is followed by India and Nigeria, which account for 17,000 to 18,000 students annually. Nonetheless, among these countries, Indonesia needs further scrutiny. Currently, the number of Indonesian students in the UK totals only around 3,000, despite being the world's fourth most populous country after China and India, with a population of 260 million. Furthermore, two million of these choose to study overseas.
Presently, Australia remains a top destination for Indonesian students. Last year, it is estimated that the number of Indonesian students in Australia moved beyond 19,000; a number far higher than the UK. The relatively low number of students from Indonesia in the UK is very surprising, especially when tuition fees in Australian universities are much more expensive than in the UK.
With Brexit, if viewed from the perspective of the UK government, Indonesia is indeed a potential market for UK universities to tackle the possible financial gap resulting from the potential reduction of EU students. Nevertheless, all these factors are highly dependent on the ability of the UK government to promote its higher education in Indonesia. Moreover, it depends on how strong the UK government is in its pursuit of educational cooperation with Indonesia.
Despite the fact that education ties between Indonesia and the UK have been relatively intense in recent years, especially with the Newton Fund initiative launched last March, it is still far from ideal, particularly when compared with the educational partnership between Indonesia and Australia. Throughout this time, as far as we know, there has been no joint degree program involving universities in the UK and Indonesia. Furthermore, as written last month, very few student exchange programs exist between the two countries.
It is important to note that these initiatives have been well implemented by Indonesia and Australia, and have successfully helped boost the number of Indonesian students.
Clearly, in midst of the ongoing concerns over Brexit, many steps can be taken by UK universities to increase cooperation with universities and educational institutions in emerging market countries. On a side note, there is another opportunity arising from Brexit. For prospective international students, especially those from Asia, the current fall in the value of sterling would lower the cost of studying in the UK by 10 percent; especially when compared with the US and Australia.
This euphoria should be captured immediately because, if it is not, UK universities will suffer greater losses.
This article is co-authored with Media Wahyudi Askar, a Ph.D scholar at the University of Manchester and the President of Indonesian Student Association in the UK.