Over half a million overseas students visit the UK annually contributing tens of millions of pounds to the economy. Over half of these come from the EU to study and brush up on their English and, going against the trend of gloomy Brexit predictions, numbers are actually up on the same period last year.
Steve Reznek, Director of English for Less, a language school based in St Leonards, said he suspected this was partly due to the value of the pound against other European currencies which has seen a drop of 20% since the June 2016 Referendum. However, he suggested numbers would drop significantly with any form of Brexit because of extra visa requirements and associated costs.
Hastings welcomes around 35,000 foreign students each year with each one contributing a net £216 to the local economy through staff wages, housing costs, and casual spending, according to research by the trade body English UK. Most of these students stay with local host families and are taught by around 300 TESOL-trained English teachers. Their average stay is 25 days and 80% of those polled said they would like to return to the UK for travel or further study.
Unless the pound rose substantially in value post-Brexit making it more expensive for overseas visitors, international student numbers are only expected to decline modestly in the short term. However, crashing out of the EU with a so-called "no-deal Brexit" would have a severe negative economic impact on Hastings, according to Mark Allen, Director of East Sussex College in Hastings.
He said that although the rich history of Britain and its culture will continue to be a huge draw for EU students, other English-speaking countries such as Malta and Ireland are already seeing their share of the market increase considerably. And while short visits are up, higher education which involves EU students staying in the UK upwards of a year has seen numbers plummet.
Speaking of the College’s contingency planning for Brexit he added: “we are increasingly looking to, and visiting, other countries such as China to fill the spaces made available by the expected reduction in numbers of EU students”.