Overseas applications to UK law schools have increased despite Brexit, but there remain many threats for the British market, not least the potential for higher tuition fees for students from countries in the European Union once the Brexit transition period ends by 2021. UK law schools are also worried about the difficulty in recruiting faculty and securing EU research funding.
Much hinges on the future relationship agreed with the UK and EU in the next year. At least when it comes to graduate law school education, the EU may come out on top. A potential loss in LL.M. applications in the UK could be the EU’s gain, law schools on the continent say.
Professor Antonios Kouroutakis at IE Law School in Madrid, Spain, has seen “a vast increase of students” enrolling in its programs. And since IE is one of the few English speaking schools in Spain, Kouroutakis, who teaches constitutional law and technology regulation, expects his courses to become even more appealing for overseas students who may be put off the UK because of Brexit.
Amsterdam Law School in the Netherlands has already seen a surge in applications for its LL.M. programs, according to Heleen van Doorn. She notes a “marked increase” in the number of foreign students applying. “This trend started after the referendum but is accelerating.”
Still some uncertainty over Brexit
Beyond increased enrollment at some law schools, Brexit stands to impact other areas of academic life. UK law schools have fretted about losing their star overseas academics, who are important in attracting talented students and research funding, because their residency status is not yet guaranteed from 2021.
“This state of insecurity and uncertainty may make the UK a less favorable destination,” says Kouroutakis. “Well established European academics in numerous UK institutions are considering to repatriate to the EU. This could impact on the quality of education in the UK.”
Another concern for all students in the UK is whether their LL.M. degrees will be recognized in the EU, for example for international transfers under the Erasmus + European student mobility scheme. Students will be hoping for mutual guarantees for academic partnerships from both sides of the negotiating table.
Degrees awarded in the EU are recognized across EU member states, which could improve the relative attractiveness of LL.M. programs on the continent.
Kouroutakis cites Spain, a business, legal and educational hub as an example. “Most of the Spanish legal programs are based on civil law and focus on Spanish and European Union legal systems,” he says.
The impact of Brexit on post-LL.M. career prospects
Prospective LL.M. students should also consider the impact of Brexit on their job prospects. After the UK’s EU referendum in 2016, numerous reports alleged the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs as businesses, especially the financial sector, moved roles abroad to maintain access to the EU single market.
Patricia Saiz is the international relations director at Esade Law School in Barcelona. She anticipates Brexit adding complexity to the commercial operations of companies or law firms operating in the UK or doing business with British companies.
However, there may be an upside for everyone, she adds. “We anticipate an increased need for internationally-minded lawyers, to advise market players affected by Brexit with respect to their activities.”
Indeed, UK law firms have reported a surge in revenue and hiring since Brexit as businesses flock to their services to prepare for Brexit, which will impact everything from contracts to intellectual property rights and immigration rules.
Saiz says: “We are attentive to the impact that Brexit may have on the European job market, as well as to the opportunities or needs that arise from it. Should local employment opportunities arise in Spain as a result of Brexit, we believe our graduates will be fully prepared to seize them.”
But she also rallies to the defense of UK law schools, which still have a strong reputation around the world, despite the risks posed by Brexit. “From an academic standpoint, we do not expect an impact, since the UK has confirmed that it will remain in the European Higher Education Area that was created as a result of the Bologna process,” she says.
“Also, we believe the UK will remain an attractive destination for students looking to be trained in the common law system.
“In any event, legal education in general has unique characteristics as lawyers are typically constrained to practice in the jurisdiction in which they are admitted to the bar. Because of that, student mobility is not as fluid as it is in other areas of study.”
Saiz does not see any risk to her institution because of Brexit. “We do not expect Brexit to have a negative impact on the law school. While the mobility of students, professors and researchers to or from the UK might be more complex, we are used to working seamlessly with students and professors from all over the world,” she says.
For law schools in Europe, there seem to be far more upsides than downsides to Brexit.