Students from European Union countries will start to pay higher fees to study at English universities from 2021, it was confirmed today, after the universities minister announced their status as ‘home’ students would end because of Brexit.
In a written statement to parliament, universities minister Michelle Donelan announced that the classification of EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals would change in August 2021. Students starting courses in the 2021/22 academic year will have to pay the same as other international students. They will also lose their entitlement to undergraduate, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support from Student Finance England.
The changes only apply in England. The Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have confirmed that EU students will be classed as home students until at least 2021/22, but have not yet announced what status might be applied after this date. Although immigration status is a matter for the UK government, setting fee status is a devolved issue.
Students from Ireland will not be subject to the changes as they will be part of the Common Travel Area arrangement.
Universities UK (UUK) had lobbied the government to extend home status for EU students until 2022.
Responding to the announcement, UUK chief executive Alistair Jarvis expressed disappointment that the government did not extend “the certainty of current arrangements” for another year.
But Mr Jarvis noted that EU students starting courses in autumn 2022 will be eligible for the UK’s EU settlement scheme if they arrive before December. He said the message to EU students was: “UK universities are ready to welcome and support you through your studies”.
“The government’s new Graduate Route – starting next summer – also means that students who are not eligible for the settlement scheme will have the opportunity to stay and work in the UK for two years after completing their studies. This will apply to those who initially have to study by distance or blended learning because they are unable to travel to the UK to start in autumn due to Covid-19,” he added.
However, it is morally and legally difficult to continue charging lower fees to EU citizens than we already charge to people from the rest of the world once Brexit has taken full effect. So today’s decision is not a huge surprise
– Nick Hillman
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) said the announcement would “be seen as bad news inside universities”.
“In the past, we have shown that higher fees and no more access to student loans could risk a decline of around 60% in the number of EU students coming to the UK to study. If that happens, our universities will be less diverse and less open to influences from other countries,” he said.
Mr Hillman added: “However, it is morally and legally difficult to continue charging lower fees to EU citizens than we already charge to people from the rest of the world once Brexit has taken full effect. So, today’s decision is not a huge surprise. Moreover, history suggests that the education on offer in our universities is something people are willing to pay for. So, if we adopt sensible post-Brexit migration rules and if universities work very hard to recruit from other EU nations, it is likely that many of our fellow Europeans will still wish to study here.”
Margaret Thatcher introduced tuition fees for international students in 1981 in a decision that some thought would make the UK an unattractive destination for overseas learners. According to figures collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the number of international students in England reached a new peak of 287,970. Students from China accounted for 101,130 of that cohort (35%).
The devolved governments could decide to extend home fee status to EU students beyond Brexit. However, it was reported in The Sunday Times on Sunday 14 June that Nicola Sturgeon’s government might bring an end to free university education in Scotland.
A Reform Scotland think tank report, published in May 2020, said: “The Scottish Government should stop paying support for EU students starting courses from 2021/22. It would be bizarre for the Scottish Government to support students from a union (EU) we have left while charging those from a union (UK) in which we remain.”