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British government confirms funding and fees for EU students

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  • Funding bodies in England, Wales, and Scotland have confirmed that EU students commencing their studies in 2017/18 will continue to be eligible for student loans and grants throughout the duration of their studies, even if the UK exits the European Union during that period
  • Universities Minister Jo Johnson has also announced that EU students beginning in 2017/18 will continue to be eligible for “home fee status”, that is to be charged the same tuition fees as UK students, for the duration of their studies
  • In a related development, a recent opinion poll shows strong support for international students in Britain, even as two new studies question official government figures as to the number of foreign students who overstay their UK visas

UK Universities Minister Jo Johnson announced on 11 October that European Union students applying to begin studies at an English university for the 2017/18 academic year will continue to be eligible for student loans and grants for the duration of their studies. The Minister also indicated that EU students commencing in 2017/18 will continue to pay the same tuition fees as British students throughout their studies, even if the UK exits the European Union during that period.

The move essentially maintains the status quo for 2017/18 EU students in English higher education. Under current student finance rules, EU students are eligible to receive loans if they have resided in the European Economic Area for at least three years prior to beginning their studies. Similarly, EU students are also eligible for “home fee status”, which means they are charged the same tuition fees as UK students.

The 11 October announcement also follows a strong call for clarity from British educators, particularly as the 2017/18 admissions cycle for UK universities had opened on 6 September. Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, spoke at the time about her association’s focus “on the understandable anxiety among the 125,000 EU students and the 43,000 EU staff in our universities…The problem is not the period when the UK is still within the EU, when current rules will continue to apply, but what can be said now about courses which continue post-exiting the EU.”

Minister Johnson appeared to acknowledge this uncertainty in his statement earlier this month: “International students make an important contribution to our world-class universities, and we want that to continue. This latest assurance that students applying to study next year will not only be eligible to apply for student funding under current terms, but will have their eligibility maintained throughout the duration of their course, will provide important stability for both universities and students.”

An accompanying Department of Education statement offers that the announcement will give universities and colleges greater certainty over future funding, as well as reassuring prospective students that their terms of study, including funding supports, will not change “if the UK leaves the EU during their studies.” The same assurances are extended to EU students enrolled in further education studies in England.

“This announcement provides much needed clarity for EU students applying to start courses at English universities in autumn 2017,” said an official response from Dame Julia on 11 October. “Students from other EU countries can now apply for places on undergraduate courses starting in autumn 2017 with the certainty that they will not have to pay up-front tuition fees and now have a guarantee that they will receive government-backed loans to cover their tuition fee for the duration of their courses. This announcement also guarantees that EU students commencing courses in autumn 2017 will continue to pay the same tuition fees as UK students for the duration of their courses, even after the point the UK exits the EU.”

The funding bodies in Wales and Scotland have also offered similar assurances to EU students. In its announcement, also on 11 October, Student Finance Wales confirms that EU students beginning their studies in 2017/18 will continue to be eligible for student loans and grants. And the Student Awards Agency Scotland has updated its guidance to EU students to affirm that those commencing their studies in 2017/18 will “continue to have access to free tuition, including tuition fee support from the Student Awards Agency Scotland.”

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) encourages prospective EU students to contact their current or intended UK institution directly to confirm their policies for EU students commencing in 2017/18, but also acknowledges that “there is clearly an intention and commitment from institutions to do whatever is in their power to enable as many EU students as possible to continue to study in the UK, in the future.”

Public support and new data

In a related development, Universities UK released the results of a new public opinion poll on 13 October, and its results further challenge the British government’s inclusion of international students in its net migration figures.

The poll reveals that only a quarter (24%) of British adults consider international students to be immigrants. Three-quarters of respondents also said they would like to see the same number of international students, or more, coming to the UK.

An even larger percentage, 91%, think that international students should be able to stay and work for a period of time following their studies. And more than seven in ten (71%) would support a policy “to help boost growth by increasing overseas students.”

“These findings are a clear indication that any new policies aimed at lowering net migration figures by reducing the number of overseas students will not address public concerns over immigration,” said Universities UK Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge. “International students come to the UK, are welcomed by British people, study for a period, and then the overwhelming majority go home after their studies. It is very clear that a majority of the public recognises that international students are valuable, temporary visitors that make an important economic and cultural contribution to the UK.”

Indeed, recent analysis suggests that official government figures considerably overstate the problem of international students staying on in the country after the conclusion of their studies. The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates that less than 40,000 non-EU migrants, who previously entered the UK as students, are still in the country after five years. This compares to government estimates of 90,000 students who remain, a figure which the IPPR concludes is not “not reliable enough to be used as a guide for policy.”

More recently, an unpublished study commissioned by the Home Office, and leaked to The Times, reportedly finds that only 1% of international students overstay their visas in the UK. “The research threatens to undermine Theresa May’s case for a crackdown on foreign student recruitment and calls into question past estimates that put the figure far higher,” says The Times. “Official statistics have been used to suggest that tens of thousands of foreign students ‘vanish’ each year after finishing their degrees, but the latest study would suggest that the true figure is 1,500.”

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