About 125,000 Europeans are currently studying in the UK. Since March 29, when Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 and begun the process to take the country out of the EU, many of them are wondering what will happen in the future. They are concerned about changing conditions to attend British universities. They especially fear that international fees — at present only applied to non-European students — will be extended to all non-British students. They also worry about access to student loans and possible visa requirements.
Academics fear that Brexit could be the “biggest disaster in years” in higher education and that British universities’ reputation may suffer from it. Prof Alastair Buchan, Oxford University’s head of Brexit strategy, told The Guardian: “We’re giving up 500 to 950 years of exchange – I think we need to be very cautious.”
To bring back the calm, authorities have confirmed that EU students will not be affected by any changes in the short term, at least until Brexit negotiations are concluded, by March 2019. In its ‘offer’ to EU citizens living in the UK, the British government proposed that EU nationals in the country before a cut off date to be agreed in Brexit talks, will be able to apply for “settled status” and have the same benefits of British citizens, “including Higher Education (HE) and Further Education (FE) student loans and ‘home fee’ status.” They will also be eligible to apply for maintenance support on the same basis they do now.
But what if negotiations fail before an agreement is reached? And which rules will apply to students beginning their studies in the UK after Brexit? We looked at the conditions for non-EU citizens to outline a possible scenario.
Universities in the United Kingdom apply ‘domestic’ or ‘international’ fees, which also vary for undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
EU students are currently subject to domestic fees, in line with the principle of free movement and non-discrimination of other EU nationals. Domestic fees range from £9,250 per year for undergraduate degree programmes in England and £9,000 in Wales, to £3,925 in Northern Ireland for EU and Northern Irish students. In Scotland, universities at the undergraduate level are free for Scots and EU nationals. However, both in Northern Ireland and Scotland, undergraduate students from the rest of the UK pay up to £9,250 a year.
The international fees for undergraduate courses can go from £10,000 up to £35,000 a year (medical degrees), according to Top Universities.
There are no standard postgraduate fees and universities are free to set their own according to the duration of the course, its perceived quality and reputation. International students pay more than ‘domestic students’. Fees are also influenced by the type of course, with the classroom-based programs being the cheapest and clinical courses and MBAs the most expensive. For example, at Warwick University England, Chemistry costs domestic students £8,170 per year and international students £23,460, while the MBA course costs both £41,820.
At present EU students can benefit from the same loans as British students. Some universities offer overseas students some funding, but in most cases they have to pay their tuition themselves or rely on loans from their home countries.
The Student Loans Company for England and Universities Wales confirmed that EU students who have already enrolled in UK universities will not be subject to any changes.
Fees and financial aid will also remain the same for those starting their studies in the academic years 2017/2018 and 2018/2019, and for the duration of their courses. At the time of writing, Northern Ireland had not provided confirmation yet for 2018/2019.
Another major concern is related to the seven UK Research Councils (Arts and Humanities, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences, Engineering and Physical Sciences, Economic and Social, Medical, Natural Environment, and Science and Technology), which invest every year a total amount of £3 billion in research. In addition, they offer full scholarships — that cover fees and living expenses — to UK and EU university researchers who meet the UK residency requirements (living in the UK for 5 years and having certificates that prove it). EU students who do not satisfy the residency requirements are sometimes eligible for a fees-only award. On 1st December 2016, the government announced that EU nationals commencing their studies in the 2017/18 academic year will remain eligible for Research Council studentships. This will apply for the full duration of their course.
The Research Councils support only a small number of overseas students and the question is whether the number will increase following Brexit. So far, the Research Councils has only stated that “future funding arrangements for EU students will be determined as part of the UK’s discussions on its future relationship” with the EU.
With immigration policies so central to the Brexit debate, students are likely to face new regulations in the future. If freedom of movement with the EU will stop and the same conditions of non-EU students will apply, EU scholars may need to request a Tier 4 (General) student visa or a short-term study visa.
Currently, applications for a Tier 4 student visa require being offered an unconditional place on a course with a licensed Tier 4 sponsor, the ability to read, write and understand English (assessed through SELT, Secure English Language Test), and having enough resources to pay for the course and life in the country. Similarly, eligibility for a short-term study visa requires being offered a place on a course at a recognised institution and having sufficient resources without need to work or to seek public funds to sustain life in the UK, and secure the return to the place of origin.
However, the entire student visa system may change as part of the review of the new immigration act, expected later in the year.
British views on international students
Despite the possible changes in fees and visas for European citizens, a public poll conducted by Universities UK in October 2016 showed that Britons would like to keep the number of non-UK students unvaried (75% in favour of non-UK students). Overall, students are not seen as part of the ‘immigration problem’ at the centre of the Brexit debate. Only 24% view international students as immigrants.
British universities are certainly keen on continuing to welcome students from all over the world. More than 100 universities (including University of Cambridge and Imperial College London) have so far joined the #WeAreInternational campaign, which aims to ensure Brexit does not result in fewer international students and academics moving to the UK.
Silvia Martelli © all rights reserved.
Photo: Alicja Borsberry-Woods, British student in a classroom in Longyearbyen – University Centre in Svalbard, Norway. © European Union, 2017. Source: EC. Photo: Ingun Alette Maehlum.