More Finns Applying To UK Universities Despite Brexit Uncertainty

Finnish university students say the UK's imminent departure from the European Union is just one factor in deciding whether to study there.

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File picture of student at a desk / Credit: iStock

More Finnish students are applying to study at British universities, despite the ongoing uncertainties over what a final Brexit deal will look like or how it may impact their stay in UK.

According to new figures obtained from UCAS, the central clearing system for UK university applications, 870 students from Finland had applied for courses starting this coming September, by the end of March.

This marks an increase from the same point just one year ago when 810 Finnish students had made applications.

While these figures do not show which applicants end up accepting a place on a degree course, they do give an indication that confidence in going to Britain for studies is improving after a sharp 20% drop in applications immediately following the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Britain’s Ambassador to Finland says he’s not surprised the numbers are climbing again.

“UK colleges are known for the excellence of their education and research quality. The Brexit vote created some understandable short-term uncertainty but the continued value of the UK offer is demonstrated by rising applicant numbers. The numbers have fluctuated in the past too, for example, for wider economic reasons” says Tom Dodd.

“The UK will continue to be a welcoming and rewarding place for Finnish students after leaving the EU, just as it was before Finland joined in 1995” the Ambassador adds.

Possible Brexit Impact On UK Education

The Study.EU website, a portal for English-language degree courses across Europe, highlights two possible post-Brexit scenarios for EU students who want to study in the UK.

First, that Brexit won’t have any direct effect on EU students if they UK agrees to stay within the Single Market.

Second, a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ option could mean that EU students would be treated like non-European international students and pay higher tuition fees.

The Higher Education Policy Institute HEPI think tank says a slight rise in EU applications to British universities could be due to the UK government guaranteeing the student finance system for all EU students starting courses including up to the 2019 / 2020 academic year, even if Brexit happens during their degree.

“I do know from the statistics that Britain has been a very popular target destination for Finns, especially when it comes to studying a full degree abroad” says Irma Garam from the Finnish National Agency for Education.

“Language might be one reason. Finns know English well and like to go to UK. The education system in Britain is quite well known. And in Scotland it has been possible to study for a bachelors degree without a tuition fee and maybe this is the last chance to do that before Brexit” she says.

Finnish students who want to study in another EU country can take advantage of a portable study grant from the Finnish government, which they can use to help fund their studies abroad.

“The actual number of Finns doing a full degree study period in Britain with support from the study grant hasn’t been growing that much, but still Britain has been the number one destination [for Finnish students] for a long time” adds Garam.

Credit: Pixabay / Creative Commons License

More Reasons Than Brexit

Finnish students in the UK say that Brexit is something they think about, but it’s not the only factor in deciding whether to study there or not.

Heidi Männikkö will start a masters degree in Medieval studies at Oxford University this coming autumn, after completing her undergraduate degree at Aberdeen University.

One main reason she’ll stay in the UK is that no Finnish universities offer a masters degree in her subject. She was also concerned about the effect of budget cuts at Finnish universities, and thinks her chances of getting a job in academia are better in the UK rather than at home in Finland.

“Of course Brexit was in my mind while I applied, but as my degree is only for a year it will be over before the UK actually leaves. So until then it should not have an effect on me or my studies” Männikkö tells News Now Finland.

“I know a lots of people who have applied now particularly in Scotland as this might be the last chance to get a fully funded undergrad degree in Scotland” she says.

Originally from Pälkäne, Sanni Suhonen grew up in Brussels. After completing a psychology degree, she’s now studying primary education at Edinburgh University and is confident of finding work since Finns are well respected in this field.

“I think Scotland remains attractive because it’s free and it does have the amazing international student community that you can’t really get in Finland. I think people are willing to risk the uncertainty of Brexit if they really want that, because they can’t get it at home” she explains.

Suhonen says that breaking out of the ‘international student bubble’ and making connections has helped her land a placement at a local school, and that’s something Finnish students need to work on, in case it becomes “more socially acceptable” after Brexit to openly choose local students rather than foreign students for work placements or internships.

“I’m personally not that worried about Brexit as I’ve been here for six years now, I feel like I’ve got good connections, work experience and am part of the community. I feel more at home here than in Finland” she says.

File picture of university student throwing cap into air / Credit: iStock

Studying international relations and politics, Panu Puhakka moved from Lohja to Aberdeen and is half way through his degree course.

“I am a bit worried about what Brexit will bring but I trust that I’ll be able to finish my current degree in the UK, and if I can’t stay here after, I’m sure I’ll be okay moving elsewhere” Puhakka tells News Now Finland.

“I know some people who applied this spring and are starting in the fall, and for those going to Scotland the free education plays a big part. And since the Scottish government and universities have promised that the people starting this year will be able to get their degree for free, the people who are about to start want to take advantage of it” he says.

At the University of Glasgow, Laura Hirvonen is taking using the portable Finnish study grant, and the guarantee of free tuition from the Scottish government, to do a degree in economics and politics.

“As a student I believe Brexit won’t majorly affect my right to stay in the country. I’m planning to settle down in Scotland after my degree and I guess then Brexit will affect me more but I’m trying not to worry about that yet” she says.

“I still want to believe the British government and EU will be able to negotiate a deal that won’t kick me out of the country”.