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Brexit and STEM – Engineering a further skills shortage?

Posted on: 28/03/2018 | Written by: Anna Reading, Marketing Executive, Cengage EMEA

When Brexit was announced on 24th June, 2016, it came as a shock to many, including those studying across the UK’s Universities, particularly international students. Shortly after the votes had been counted, it came to light that the level of education had a higher correlation with the voting pattern than any other major demographic measure and that wards with more graduates had a lower leave vote.

Is that surprising? As a recent graduate myself, no, not really. I voted remain and one of the key factors which secured my vote was the ERASMUS year I spent at Universities in Portugal and Spain as part of my degree. Unfortunately, with Brexit, it’s likely a lot of future students won’t get the opportunity I, and 200,00 others, had, as the freedom of movement policy is jeopardised. But what does this mean for those coming to UK universities from outside of the UK and EU? Especially those who come to study the critical STEM subjects that the UK so desperately needs?

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University applications in Engineering
Let’s focus on Engineering. Year upon year, the applicants who are choosing to study Engineering are increasing, with the total applicants reaching just over 170,000 in the 2016 cycle. It’s also one of the subjects which has one the highest annual earnings, 5 years after graduation. Taking a deeper look into these statistics, it may not surprise you that 119,000 of these applicants are from the UK. If we exclude the UK, the total number of applications from the EU stands at 14,000. Perhaps not the most popular degree to study when migrating to the UK but certainly not the least popular either. Those who come from outside of the EU total over 36,000 applications, putting Engineering as the second most popular degree for non-EU applicants after business and admin. So why such a skills shortage?

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What does this mean for international students?
Brexit is likely to impact EU students more than non-EU students. At the moment, if non-EU students want to stay in the UK after their degree, they have to apply for a work visa, which can be difficult to obtain. Essentially students need to have a graduate job, with a graduate salary, with a licensed Home Office employer. What’s more, Brexit will double the immigration skills charge levied on companies employing migrant workers (up to £2,000 annually). European graduates are likely going to have to go through a similar visa process which could deter potential STEM students from studying in the UK.

Although Universities maintain the stance of attracting the best students from all over the world, the Brexit commitment to bear down on immigration suggests those coming from outside the UK to study (totalling 40,000 for Engineering) is going to be impacted. As a result, the pool of skilled workers that the UK previously had access to is likely going to dissipate with Brexit, deepening the national STEM shortage crisis, impacting the UK’s science and technology industry.

Opinions and outlooks raised belong to the author and don’t necessarily reflect any part of Cengage or our affiliates.

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