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3rd Mar 2021

New analysis projects Brexit’s impact on EU enrolment in British higher education

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • An analysis commissioned by the British government shows that new rules taking effect post-Brexit may result in 57% fewer EU commencements in UK higher education institutions
  • A revenue loss of £62.5 million (US$85.9 million) per year is forecast for the sector, with only Oxford and Cambridge expected to increase revenue as a result of the new rules

As a result of the UK’s departure from the European Union, EU/EEA and Swiss students coming to the UK for higher education will – beginning this September – lose their “home fee status” that has until now allowed them to pay the same tuition fees as UK students. They will also lose access to British student loans and face the same limitations on their right to work after graduating as other international students, along with other restrictions.

According to an analysis prepared for the UK Department of Education by London Economics, the new rules may result in UK universities losing £62.5 million (USD $85.9 million) per year in tuition fees – as a result of losing more than half (57%) of their first-year EU students.

This academic year (2020/21) was the final year that EU students could enrol in UK education institutions on the same fee and financial support terms as UK students. Since the 2016 Brexit referendum and the uncertainty that followed, UK universities have gradually been losing revenue from EU students.

Higher tuition fees cannot offset lost revenue

The analysis concluded that the increased tuition revenue that UK universities will gain from incoming EU students going forward is not expected to offset the lost revenue associated with fewer students coming in. Currently, one in every three international students in UK higher education is from the EU.

A Study.eu survey last year found that the top alternative destinations for EU students who decide that the UK is too expensive as a result of Brexit changes are the Netherlands (49%), Germany (36%), France (19%), Ireland (16%), and Sweden (14%).

Top tier institutions less affected

Not all universities will face losses as a result of Brexit, however. Oxford and Cambridge are actually projected to gain £3.5 million (US$4.8 million) a year because demand for these universities is not likely to decrease. A cluster analysis determined that it is the universities outside of the top tier that will feel the pinch – and the forecast here is that they will lose £0.6 million a year ($0.8 million) on average. Some of these universities are already under significant financial pressure as a result of the pandemic.

Non-EU student population is growing

In anticipation of Brexit, UK universities have been increasing their recruitment efforts in non-EU markets. In 2018/19, the record number of international student enrolments in the UK was entirely due to growth from those markets; the number of first-year students from EU countries fell by 2% while the number from non-EU countries rose by 23%.

In an early 2021 data release, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reported a 40% drop in the number of EU applications to UK universities for the September 2021 intake, with 26,010 fewer EU students applying. The number of non-EU applications, meanwhile, is up by 17%.

UK university stakeholders say there need to be new strategies to prevent the worst-case projections for the effects of Brexit on EU enrolments. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, has warned that a massive drop the number of EU students could mean that “[UK] universities will be less diverse and less open to influences from other countries” and said there is an urgent need to “make it abundantly clear to people from the EU and beyond that our universities remain open to all.”

For additional background, please see:

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