Within One Year, Brexit

Slashes European Student Enrollment in the UK by Half

By Apostolos Kaniouras | International | February 18, 2023

Cover Illustration: Radcliffe Square, Oxford, UK. 2020. Nikita Ti / Unsplash 

Reporter Apostolos Kaniouras analyzes the consequences of Brexit on universities and university students, both in and out of the country. 

The academic year of 2021/2022 was the first full year post-Brexit, and British universities have already started feeling its effects. Although the UK left the EU officially on January 31 2020, the effects of the  agreements made for their departure did not come into effect until January 1 2021. Among many changes, the most impactful ones for members of the younger generation were changes in  eligibility rules for home fees and student finance. This change was catastrophic for thousands of prospective students coming from countries in the European Union. Although EU students would not be harmed by these changes mid-way through their studies, first-year students with both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees had to adapt their study plans.

Before Brexit, British universities were the primary target of a lot of EU students wanting to study abroad. For this reason, there was always competition to obtain one of the limited spots. Now that Brexit has become reality, statistics show a  53% decrease in the enrollment of EU students compared to last year. Although politicians and academics expected a decrease, the significant drop has made them afraid for the future.  Dr Hollie Chandler, a senior policy analyst at the 24-strong group of leading universities, described the decline as “troubling”.

Before Brexit, students eligible for student finance paid approximately 9000 pounds in  fees. Although this number may fluctuate depending on the type of housing one chooses, it does not even come close to the 38000 pounds that are now the approximate maximum a non-British student has to pay for their fees. This is the primary deterrent that has resulted in 31000 students enrolling in 2021, compared to the  66500 students enrolled in 2020. The largest impacts of this gigantic decrease were felt at the undergraduate level, where only 13000 EU students applied for an undergraduate degree, in contrast to the 37000 that had applied the previous year when Brexit was not yet in effect. A second deterrent is a requirement for EU students to obtain a visa per the  new immigration laws, and to provide documents proving, for example in the case of London, that they are able to access approximately 1334 pounds per month.  

UK and EU flag, 2020. Rocco Dipoppa / Unsplash

The decrease in EU students in British universities has not only affected the institutions economically but also culturally. University staff point out how students should engage and learn from one another at university. This year, the diversity of cultures within their lecture halls has been reduced. 

The Higher Education Statistics Agency’s figures show that the most significant decrease in students came from Italy, France and Germany. Before Brexit, France was the largest provider of EU students to the UK. Now,  Ireland has replaced France, sourcing approximately 10000 students. This comes as no surprise since residents of Ireland are not affected by new changes regarding housing fees due to the  Common Travel Area arrangement between Britain and Ireland. Now that most students deem British universities as unattainable options for study for economic reasons, many of them look to their neighbors, realizing that the grass may be greener there. Over the last two years, there has been a significant increase in enrollment at Irish and Dutch universities. Most international students plan to study courses taught in English, and these two countries offer the widest range of English courses in Europe. Furthermore, both Ireland and the Netherlands allow for living and having a social life without having to learn the native language.

A first-year student at Vrije University stated in an interview conducted with The Amsterdammer that although he had been planning to study in London for years, everything changed within the span of 12 months. He continued by saying “now that I am here studying what I like, I don’t regret anything; back when I had to change plans and discard all the research I did about the British universities I liked, it was truly painful.” When asked what he thinks of the future of first-year student enrollment, he stated “everyone who lives in the Netherlands has heard of or experienced the housing crisis. Many of my friends have been here for months and still live in hotels waiting to find stable housing. Hopefully, the government will intervene and help them find housing, or they will have to start closing their doors to prospective students as well”.

Cambridge University, 2021. Dorin Seremet / Unsplash

Before Brexit, British universities were the primary target of a lot of EU students wanting to study abroad.

Apostolos Kaniouras is a university student in Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer. 

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