How Brexit Will Affect EU Student Numbers

12.07.21 06:00 PM

Since the 2016 EU referendum there has been great uncertainty regarding the European education system. Questions have been raised as to whether EU students in the UK will now have to pay the higher university fees paid by non-EU international students. However, there is also doubt in relation to the continuation of the UK’s membership in the Erasmus student exchange programme; so much so that some European universities have already began to advise their Erasmus students against choosing the UK as their destination. Are these fears genuine or rather unfounded and fuelled by a lack of communication between the relevant institutions?

After the UK officially left the EU on 31st January 2020, the country entered a post-EU transition stage that will last until the end of the year. It has been made clear that undergraduate and postgraduate EU students who have applied to study in the UK for 2020/21 academic year will pay the same tuition fees and receive the same financial support as UK students. Arguably, a rise in tuition fees for EU students could cause massive losses for UK universities who receive 15% of their total income from EU students fees according to the World University Rankings. Obviously, UK universities do not want to lose this market, and some universities are reportedly discussing keeping EU students’ tuition at their current ‘domestic’ rates for the foreseeable future. No doubt  more information regarding the possible changes to the support status of EU students studying in the UK in the 2021/22 academic year (after transition period) is still expected before we can be sure of the long term effects Brexit will have on education.

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However, we can confidently say that Brexit certainly does not mean the UK is leaving the Erasmus Programme considering EU membership is not a requirement for being a member of the programme as several non-EU countries are currently active members. It appears that both the British and European governments are hopeful that the UK will remain an active member of the Erasmus programme, as their participation has greatly benefitted both parties. ‘There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme’ - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently stated in one of his speeches.  The UK and EU have heavily relied on the programme as an opportunity for its university students to study and work in a foreign country for a subsidised price. BBC figures estimate that 53% of UK students who study abroad do so through the Erasmus programme, whilst in 2017, 31,727 EU students came to the UK -  the most popular destination for mobile students. 

Similarly, EU citizens with jobs and internships will be protected by the Withdrawal Agreement. The agreement guarantees that EU nationals living in the UK will still be residents and keep their social security rights providing they are UK residents before the end of the transition phase.  While the current evidence conveys a relatively positive outlook for EU student numbers, it must be stressed that negotiations are ongoing and subject to change.

Published on 5th March 2020