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Opinion: How Business Schools Can Use The Brand To Beat Brexit

Whatever the effect of Brexit on UK business schools may be, brand building can beat it, says BusinessBecause editor Marco De Novellis

Thu Jun 21 2018

Another red-hot European summer. Union Jacks; soccer fans; hushed whispers; sideways looks in the airport immigration queue.

I was in Lyon, France, when it happened. In a sweltering hot hotel room—the result of a hastily-booked trip to the European soccer championships—I sat on one of two beds lined up against a bare white wall. On an old television set, I watched the blurry coverage from back home.

There was Nigel Farage—mission accomplished. There was a former National Front foot-soldier celebrating on breakfast TV. There was Theresa May looking somber. There were wide-eyed Remainers posting on Twitter. If it wasn’t for the undereducated, they said. If it wasn’t for the elderly.

A continental breakfast. Then, a flight home to a nation divided. Would continental Europe ever welcome me back?

UK business schools had pretty much all declared opposition to the idea of Brexit.

Before June 23rd 2016, Universities UK, an organization that represents the country’s university leaders, said that a Britain outside the EU would mean fewer EU students, fewer jobs, and less money. The 125,000 EU students in the UK—who generate over $3 billion for the economy and create thousands of jobs—were at risk of being put off.

Nigel Driffield, a senior professor at Warwick Business School, said Brexit would be a ‘disaster’ for UK business schools. London Business School’s former dean, Andrew Likierman, called Brexit ‘bad news’.

Before the EU Referendum, the business schools I spoke to feared a ‘Yes’ vote would mean less foreign investment into the UK, fewer high-end jobs, fewer EU students, fewer UK students, less research funding, and an exodus of staff.

Uncertainty would turn applicants away from the UK schools and towards mainland Europe. MBA students hated Brexit; the diversity of business schools was at risk; the future of UK business schools was at risk.

When the vote came in and Brexit happened, business schools’ messaging predictably changed. Brexit was workable; it wouldn’t have a major impact; it was business as usual.

These communications rang a hollow note. Let’s make one thing clear: no British business school has ever come out and said Brexit is a good thing.

Business schools’ initial concerns were soon backed up by data. In December 2016, GMAC surveyed over 1,000 non-UK GMAT test takers who had sent at least one score to a UK business school. 45% said Brexit made them less likely to study in the UK.

Another 2016 survey by the Chartered Association of Business Schools (CABS) found around 45% of UK business schools expected to see a decline in EU student applications because of Brexit. Still, in October 2017, a study by CarringtonCrisp found 28% of a survey of 1,500 prospective students were less likely to study in the UK following the Brexit vote.

Read: How Is Brexit Impacting Business Schools In The UK And Europe?



After two years, and countless trips to Brussels and back, we have a date. The UK is set to leave the EU on March 29th, 2019. Business schools in the UK are not singing Brexit’s praises. But they’re not hanging empty from a Dover cliff edge either.

At least for now, the fears have not been realized. A falling pound has helped make UK-based MBA programs relatively cheaper, and students are still coming to Britain's shores.

In March 2017, BusinessBecause reported that, despite Brexit, applications to London Business School’s MBA program had gone up by 15%.

In October, Balbir Guru, head of MBA recruitment and admissions at Cass Business School, said she’d seen more international applications and more diversity in the classroom since Brexit. Cass, Imperial, and Nottingham Business School all reported increased applications.

June 2018, and Stephen Bach, dean of King’s Business School, tells me that programs are oversubscribed. John Colley, associate dean for the MBA at Warwick Business School, says applications went up by 80% after the Brexit vote, and another 12% already this year. The surge in demand means Warwick will be running two classes of full-time MBA students for the first time in 2018.

While mainland European business school claim to have profited from Brexit, British business schools remain an attractive proposition. Despite the Brexit vote, around two-thirds (65%) of masters and MBA programs in the UK have seen international demand grow. 

A new study by CarringtonCrisp, released this month, recorded that the popularity of the UK as a study destination has gone up post-Brexit. The study shows the UK has increased its popularity among international business students by almost 10% in the past year.

Read: Popularity Of The UK As A Study Destination Has GONE UP Since Brexit



In every battle, there are casualties. Zoe Radnor, dean of the University of Leicester School of Business, says she’s lost about half a dozen staff since Brexit. Applications from EU staff and EU applicants have also gone down.

There are realistic fears over research funding—UK management research funding has already fallen by one-quarter over the past six years. UK students are also looking elsewhere. According to GMAC, fewer than half of MBA (42%) and business master’s programs (29%) have reported growth in domestic applications since Brexit.

UK careers have taken a hit. One Warwick Business School MBA graduate I spoke to said her international classmates had been forced to accept lower-paid, lower-grade jobs than they had expected after the EU Referendum. Post-Brexit, few were staying in the UK.

But not every MBA student comes to a UK business school to pursue a career in the UK anyway. UK business schools set students up for careers on a global scale. When I raised the topic with Stuart Robinson, director of the MBA program at the University of Exeter Business School, he hit back: “Why would a Chinese student care about Brexit?”

GMAC figures show that 90% of MBA applications and 97% of business master’s applications to the UK come from internationals. Oxford; Cambridge; LBS; the British brands transcend the British Isles, and business schools know it.

They know that building their brands beyond Britain is key to their current and future success. Cass Business School opened its Dubai campus back in 2007. The University of Leicester School of Business boasts global centers, located across Southern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Lancaster University’s revamped EMBA program is delivered in the UK, Ghana, and Malaysia.

Along with global campuses, online learning brings easy brand access to the international market. Birmingham Business School’s Online MBA was the first 100%-online MBA to be accredited by AMBA, with students tapping into Birmingham’s program from remote locations across the globe. After Brexit, across both Birmingham’s Online MBA and MSc International Business, 86 nationalities were represented in the class.

Brexit could yet have a severe effect on business education in the UK. But let’s face it: if you take Harvard out of Massachusetts, people are still going to want to go to Harvard.

The same can be said of many of Britain’s big brand schools. Whatever the effect of Brexit may be, brand building can beat it.

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




On Campus

Learning environment

The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




On Campus


I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




On Campus


The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




On Campus


The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




On Campus

Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




On Campus

Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




On Campus

Clinical biology

I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society