More Evidence 2016 Results Will Roil B-Schools

British Prime Minister Theresa May this month affirmed her commitment to the UK’s exit from the EU, but a new GMAC survey has found that international business students are still wary of studying in the UK after the Brexit vote

The results of a referendum on membership in the European Union in the United Kingdom in June and the U.S. presidential election in November continue to reverberate around the world, not least in the world of business schools, where evidence continues to mount that the impending BREXIT and the election of Donald Trump are negatively impacting international students’ decisions on whether to study in the two countries.

Today (Jan. 18), the nonprofit Graduate Management Admission Council released the results of a pair of surveys that show a significant number of international students are rethinking both the U.S. and the U.K. as B-school destinations. Forty-five percent of non-UK takers of the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) say BREXIT has made them less likely to study in the UK, one survey found, while the other found that 37% of non-U.S. GMAT takers say Trump’s election makes them less likely to study in the U.S.

“A significant number of international students, seeing the events of last year in the U.K. and the U.S., are reappraising their plans regarding studying in those two countries,”  says Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC president and CEO, cautioning that the intent of survey respondents will not necessarily translate to action. However, “It’s a large number of students who see the events of last year negatively, and are examining their options going forward.”


Between Dec. 6 and Dec. 15, GMAC sent invitations to 9,845 non-UK GMAT test takers who had sent at least one GMAT score report to a program located in the UK in 2016; 1,291 responded. While most (46%) say Brexit will have no influence on their decision whether to study in the UK, nearly the same number (45%) say the controversial plan has made them consider other options. Conversely, 8% say they are more likely to choose to study in the UK.

“This is to some extent what we expected,” says Chowfla, adding that the type of school candidates submitted GMAT scores to — top school only, non-top school only, and both — did not have a statistically significant impact on opinion regarding Brexit. “We were somewhat surprised by the magnitude of the response.”

Diving deeper, GMAC’s country-level analysis shows that Indian candidates have been most negatively influenced by the Brexit vote, with 58% indicating that it has made them less likely to study in the UK. They were followed in this sentiment by the UAE (50%) and a trio of European countries (Germany 49%, Italy 47%, and France 46%).


Sangeet Chowfla

“The Indian student numbers were very interesting,” Chowfla tells Poets&Quants. “Compare that with Chinese students, about 35% of whom were less likely to study in the UK post-BREXIT. As we investigated further, we cross-tabbed some of this data with work we have also done on global segmentation and we discovered that a significant number of Indian students who study outside of India are what we call ‘global strivers,’ and they’re really driven by this desire to build an international career. So they are very sensitive to issues related to work visas post-graduation.

“That is 42% of Indians. But it’s just 11% for Chinese. Chinese students who study abroad are not global strivers, so they are less sensitive to work visa-related issues.”

International students in the U.K. make up around 80% of total enrollment in graduate management programs, Chowfla says; of those, Indian students make up the most significant portion. So any reduction in international numbers, he says — especially Indian numbers — could have a devastating impact on the U.K.’s B-schools.

“The U.K. is over-indexed on international students generally,” Chowfla says. “The U.K. has an extreme dependence on international students, so the generic reluctance to study in the UK post-BREXIT — and the particular concern amongst Indian students — is a potential cause of concern for programs in the U.K.”


In the U.S., where 45% of those enrolled in graduate management programs are non-U.S. citizens, the numbers are not yet as stark — but they’re not positive, either, with 37% of respondents saying they are less likely to study in the U.S. during a Trump administration. Nearly half (48%) say Trump’s elevation to the White House will have no impact on their decision, and 15% say his election makes them more likely to study in the U.S.

“What we found was that of the more than one third who say they are less likely to study in the U.S., 16% say they are significantly less likely to pursue a degree here,” Chowfla says. “What we found that was interesting if you look at the internals of the data, is that of the people who are less likely to study in the U.S., it was slightly over-indexed to higher performers on indicators like the GMAT exam.” GMAC found that more than half of GMAT test takers — 51% — with a score of 700 or above say they are less likely to study in the U.S.

“This is perhaps reflecting the fact that business school education has really become global, and these students with high GMAT scores and high capabilities have a lot of other options in front of them — so there is a tendency to say, ‘Wait a minute, I am concerned about a work visa and the anti-immigration sentiment, I have other options.'” Chowfla adds that 35% of students scoring 600 to 690 on the GMAT and 27% of students of those scoring 500 to 600 say they are less likely to go to the U.S. post-election, a sentiment shared by 37% of pre-GMAT candidates — “perhaps reflecting that there are fewer quality options for students in the mid-tier.”