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Europe fears brain drain to UK

By Jim Stenman for CNN


Higher Education
Great Britain

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Some nations face a severe brain drain in the coming decades as a direct result of the European Union's policy to increase student mobility, experts have warned.

Emerging Eastern European countries in particular are being hit by the exodus of top students choosing Britain as their ideal destination for higher education, they add.

Britain is emerging as their top destination for students from across Europe. These young migrants are not heading to the UK for a gap year, but to study full time in British colleges and universities.

But the flow of students that leave home for educational reasons is not always a two-way exchange, but a trend which could have serious negative long-term effects on some countries according to the National Unions of Students in Europe (ESIB).

ESIB's Brussels-based director, Justin Fenech, believes this has already happened. "Europe is experiencing an internal brain drain because large numbers of students from the new EU member nations are coming to the west."

Affected countries are sounding warnings. Leszek Banaszak, Consular at the Economic Section of the Polish Embassy in London, said: "From our perspective we really hope these individuals return home. Poles that have been educated abroad are valuable to us because the welfare of our society depends on their contribution."

Banaszak believes individuals often leave Poland because they have little belief in a future there due to high unemployment rates among young people.

In 2004-2005 the number of EU students enrolled in UK higher education was 100,000, of whom 54,000 were on undergraduate courses and 46,000 in postgraduate courses, according to the Department for Education and Skills, Britain's educational authority. This could indicate that the U.S. is losing out to the UK in attracting international students.

"I have always wanted an international career and that's why I came here. British universities are very organized and you can complete a degree in only three years. Back home you finish in your own time," said Marie-Elena Hadgianni, 22, from Greece, who has recently completed a journalism degree at City University in London.

The high concentration of EU students in Britain, is in stark contrast to other European countries where migrant student numbers remain more modest. France has just 33,788 EU students, according to their Ministry for Education, whilst the German Academic Exchange Service records 49,009 EU students.

A major attraction for students to study in Britain would appear to be the language.

Dr. Alec Charles is Regional Director for EU Recruitment at the University of Luton, north of London, where 10 percent of students come from EU countries. "English is the global language of business. Students come here because they already speak excellent English and therefore it's a good place for them to study.," adds Charles.

In his work as a media lecturer, Alec Charles has been based in various countries, including Estonia -- one of the 10 accession countries welcomed into the EU two years ago. Britain has since then seen a significant increase in the number of students from these countries.

Justin Fenech believes the global recognition of British standards is a key factor. "Students come to Britain because its universities are good at recognizing high school education from other countries. On the other side of the spectrum; the degrees that they obtain are also well recognized throughout Europe."

He adds that there have been many barriers to this sort of mobilization in the past, but current EU policies on free movement have made life easier for students. The resulting rise in student mobility, is something the ESIB considers to be an important element of a holistic education.

Costs are an important factor in contributing to this mobility. At present EU students in Britain receive education at an annual fee of £1,175 (about $2,170), the same as their UK counterparts. However, that fee will nearly triple this September. But their studies are, nonetheless, in large funded through taxation, an investment from which the British government hopes to benefit from in the future.

"It's a huge encouragement to students from the European Union to study in Britain at the same financial rates as British citizens," said Dr. Alec Charles.

In addition, he considers Britain reaps the rewards of investing in students from across the EU. "Britain is hoping that a large number of these students will stay on to contribute to our economy. It's very much worth giving people free education if a high number of them stay. These are highly motivated students that are valuable to our economy."

Hungarian student Tamas Marancsicf, 27, came to Britain early last year to pursue a postgraduate degree in Computer and Internet Applications at the University of Luton. Marancsicf believes studying in English has improved his language skills notably, which has given him the confidence to explore other opportunities in Britain.

"I plan to stay in the UK for a few years because there are better opportunities here. I'm going to start a PhD program this fall and I have a job lined up in Brussels. Life couldn't be any better."

While endorsing the benefits of education in other countries, Justin Fenech from ESIB emphasizes the economic importance of students returning home at some point.

"If not, their home countries will have wasted resources in educating them."

But he does, however, recognize that the EU has made student life more open in terms of encouraging interaction between different cultures which has brought about a new chapter in EU education.

The European Commission's Directorate General for Education and Culture wants students to look further still -- at the education opportunities worldwide.

A recent study by the DG for Education and Culture recognizes that the United States leads in recruitment of international students and that Australia also does notably well in proportion to its size. Both countries have achieved considerable success in attracting Asian students in particular.

At the same time the report recommends that higher education in Europe be promoted as a distinct brand that uses elements common to all European countries such as high quality teaching, rich tradition and internationally competitive degrees.

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