GMAC: UK Schools Defy Brexit Doomsday Concerns

Parliament has approved a delay of Brexit, the UK’s divorce from the European Union. Council on Foreign Relations photo

Brexit — the United Kingdom’s messy divorce from the European Union that was mandated by a 2016 referendum — is going to happen, one way or another. (Probably.) But what it will look like when it finally does happen is anyone’s guess.

The country’s leaders surely do not know. Last week, Parliament approved an extension on the March 29 date of departure because a package of trade and other deals negotiated by Prime Minister Teresa May had failed to pass, leaving the country on the precipice of “No-Deal Brexit.” How long of an extension? That has not been determined. Could be weeks, could be months — could be more than a year. May is expected to travel to Brussels, Belgium this week to discuss the extension with EU leaders, even as her Brexit deal comes before Parliament for a third — and likely just as unsuccessful — vote.

To sum up: Brexit is utter chaos.

And yet this anarchy in the UK seems to have affected business schools very little, if a new report by the Graduate Management Admission Council is any indication. GMAC found that since the 2016 vote to leave the European Union, UK business schools have continued to experience strong demand from non-UK citizens, despite fears that Brexit would repel international business school candidates, with the schools seeing an actual increase in candidates selecting the UK as their first-choice country for their business school experience. Survey results from December 2018 show that 54% say Brexit had no impact on their decision to study in the UK, up from 46% in December 2016.


GMAC’s report, Brexit and Graduate Management Education in the United Kingdom, released today (March 19), comports with much of our own reporting. It credits much of the resilience of UK B-schools amid the pandemonium of Brexit to the redoubtable edifice of British graduate business education. Indeed, GMAC’s survey findings show that consideration of the UK as a study destination is driven by the reputation of the UK educational system, enhanced by candidates’ desire to develop an international network and improve their chances of having an international career — things that UK schools have long been reputed to do very well, and which Brexit isn’t expected to reverse.

Other factors bolstering UK B-schools: a falling pound and reduced interest in the United States as a study destination over the same period.

There are, however, potential areas for concern if you’re in the B-school admissions game in the UK. Though most respondents to the December 2018 survey say Brexit had no impact on their decision making, about half of non-UK Europeans (51%) say they are less likely to study in the UK because of Brexit, and most candidates consider Brexit a detriment to the availability of student and work visas in the UK. Over time, candidates’ perception of the impact of Brexit on the cost of education and living in the UK have become more negative, GMAC found.

Still, admissions test score-sending behavior shows that UK programs have remained just as popular a choice for business school as before the 2016 Brexit vote. In fact, GMAC says, the share of Graduate Management Admission Test scores sent to UK programs has actually increased slightly since the 2016 vote and is stable — or up — across world regions of citizenship.


The increase in GMAT scores sent to UK schools is particularly strong among examinees from Asia-Pacific countries and those with a total score of 600 and above. Previous GMAC findings corroborate continued strong international demand for UK programs, as 71% of programs reported year-on-year international application volume growth in 2018.

“The level of interest we’re seeing from international candidates in UK B-schools is a major factor in the overall global stability we’re observing in graduate management education,” says Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC president and CEO, in a news release accompanying the new report. “It’s also a success story in mobility that I hope will continue in the UK as Brexit continues to unfold. If we are to maintain a healthy climate for aspiring candidates, we need to make it possible for people from different regions and backgrounds to study and work in the location they desire.”

The report reads: “With the continued uncertainty about how Brexit will proceed, it’s not clear how international student mobility will be affected should the actual departure from the EU take place. As a global association of leading graduate business schools, GMAC supports the free flow of people and ideas and is committed to the belief that candidates should be able to study at the program and location of their choice based on their best fit. GMAC plans to continue to conduct survey research on this topic as events unfold.”

(See the next page for graphics and data from the report, Brexit and Graduate Management Education in the United Kingdom.)

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