Heads of British universities say they will be forced to recruit a higher proportion of students from foreign nations, including China, should Brexit mean that the United Kingdom becomes ineligible for education funding from the European Union.
Over the next two years, the UK is scheduled to receive 1.3 billion euros ($1.49 billion) in education funding from the European Research Council, also known as the ERC, and other related schemes. University leaders are concerned that if Britain leaves the EU as scheduled this March, this funding will be cut off .
Representatives from Glasgow University, University College London and Buckingham University have all warned that they may be forced to make up a lack in funding by recruiting increasing numbers of non-EU international students, whose tuition fees are often up to three or four times as much as British and European students.
Anton Muscatelli, chairman of the Russell Group, a body representing 24 research universities in the UK, said overseas students could soon comprise up to 50 percent of the student body at many British institutions. This would most likely involve heavy recruitment from India and China, he added.
"Many universities will try to do this because it will be the only way to respond to a sudden fall in income," he told The Times newspaper.
Student recruitment has also been impacted by a decline in applicants from Europe. After years of positive growth, the number of EU students enrolling at Russell Group universities for the 2018-2019 academic year fell by 3 percent.
Outside the EU, China is the only country that has sent a steadily increasing number of students to the UK over the last seven years. The number of Chinese students in the UK far exceeds any other nationality from outside the EU; almost one third of the UK's non-EU students are from China. According to the Chinese embassy in the UK, last year there were 170,000 Chinese students studying in Britain.
On Friday, four university groups-the Russell Group, Guild HE, Million Plus, and the University Alliance-which together representing 150 higher education providers across the UK, released a joint letter to members of Parliament warning about the impact of Brexit on the education sector.
Next week, on Jan 15, Parliament will vote on a Brexit deal negotiated between Prime Minister Theresa May and the 27 other EU member states.
In the event that MPs vote against May's proposal and as a consequence the UK leaves the EU in March without a deal, the letter said it is critical that the government offers assurances that the EU education funding would be covered by other means.
"Time is running out to make decisions on issues which will ultimately affect the country and society as a whole," said Janet Beer, president of Universities UK. "Without cast-iron assurances, world-leading academics and researchers may leave for countries where access to ERC funding is not at risk, and those currently considering relocating to the UK may think again."
In their letter, the university leaders said that EU funding works toward vital scientific discovery, including the development of new cancer treatments and to combat climate change. The UK is currently the most successful country in hosting ERC grantees, ahead of Germany, but would immediately become ineligible in the event of no deal, the letter stated.