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Brexit has had a massive impact on nearly all parts of the UK’s economy and society since its decision to leave the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU, in 2016. There is at least one sector, however, where it seems to be having little impact: the country’s business schools. In fact, according to recent figures released by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which oversees global MBA admission exams, UK business schools seem to be exceeding all expectations by attracting as many non-UK applicants as ever.

Over the past two years,  international business schools have reported a global drop in applications for business masters, with 56% of US business schools stating they had received fewer applications. As a nearly exact counterpoint to this, 59% of their UK counterparts have reported growth in their postgraduate applications, with 75% seeing an increase in admissions from international students.

International Competition for Talent

The reason for the stark comparison between the fortunes of US and UK business schools comes down to a number of factors, though mainly the greater cost-benefit results of studying in the UK. MBAs in the US are considerably more expensive than in the UK, but the UK has an excellent jobs market at the moment, with an unemployment rate of around 4%, while 18 of its universities rank in the top 100 in the world.

Understandably for international students, making such a large investment in a US MBA can be difficult and may not even be the best option if a UK degree would provide the same opportunities. London is one of the world’s great financial centers, and the UK is increasingly becoming a hub for tech investment, providing plenty of potential for young business grads to set themselves on a pathway to success.

Brexit and the UK’s Changing Situation

Despite the great political and financial uncertainty created by Brexit, other figures reported by GMAC show that it’s not playing such a significant role in students’ decision-making, with 54% declaring it had no impact on their choice. While that may be true directly, the impact of that uncertainty on forcing down the value of the UK’s pound sterling at least indirectly made tuition fees and living expenses cheaper for most students.

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This has certainly made the job of promoting UK business schools abroad easier, with the government stepping in to support them by dropping restrictions and allowing students to stay on in the country to search for work for two years following graduation. In a time of tightening immigration controls, even for those coming to study, having such guarantees are bound to hold sway with international students.

The International State of Business Schools

That tension over immigration and trade might be what’s fueling the current drop in business grad school students. It is not just uncertainty about the global model of trade, but also about fitting into different corporate cultures. As GMAC’s president and chief executive, Sangeet Chowfla, pointedly noted, “In today’s knowledge economies, if you do not import talent you will eventually end up exporting growth because you will lack the diversity of thinking.”


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