Updated: Oct 30, 2020
By Alexandra Bulat
I arrived in the UK at 18 years old with a university offer. Eight years later, I passed my PhD viva. I worked throughout my studies and accumulated over 5 years of professional work experience in teaching and research. I am Romanian and as an EU student, I was treated the same as British students for fees and loans throughout my studies. But the situation will be very different for people like me who will choose to come study in the UK after Brexit.
What will change from 2021/2022?
Last week, the UK Government announced that European Union (EU), European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss students will lose access to student loans starting from the 2021/2022 academic year.
European students coming to study in the UK from that year will also pay international student fees, instead of ‘home’ fees. To give you an illustration, for an undergraduate degree at University of Cambridge, the current fee per year is £9,250 if you have home fee status (regardless of your degree choice), or between £22,227 and £58,038 for international students, depending on the degree.
How did EU students react to the news?
This news was expected, given that the UK is leaving the EU and the transition period is due to end in December 2020. However, the news attracted much negative reaction, particularly from EU students or those who have been EU students in the past.
Many underlined how they would not have become the professionals they are today without the access they had to home fees and student loans in the UK. I am counting myself in this category. My BA, MPhil and PhD would simply not have been possible to pursue if I did not have access to home fees and scholarships.
I struggle to think of a single friend from the EU who could have personal funds or family support to pay three or four years of international fees. As others highlighted on social media as a response to the news, many EU students would simply not be able to afford to come to the UK if they have to pay much higher fees without access to any loans.
Why do EU students currently have home fee status?
Perhaps some of you think it is unfair that EU students have had different fees to non-EU students. The reason why EU students have had home fees is because they arrived in the UK under the freedom of movement rules. Freedom of movement is a reciprocal system. While a Danish student can have ‘home’ fees, a British student can go to university for free in Denmark – because university is free there for EU, EEA and Swiss students. This is all set to change after Brexit, because freedom of movement rules will not apply anymore in the UK. This will affect both EU students who plan to study in the UK and British students who want to study in one of the EU countries.
The impact on brand Britain
The changes brought by Brexit concern many in the university sector, particularly as recent rankings show that UK universities seem to become less attractive. The increase in fees for EU students planning to come to the UK is predicted to significantly lower the number of EU students at UK universities. This will thus impact the diversity of the UK’s world-renowned multicultural university campuses.
In the post-Brexit world, the UK will have to find new ways to maintain its competitive advantage, particularly considering that EU students are free to live, work and study in more than 20 countries, which all have much lower or even no fees at all for their universities. It will not be surprising for the UK Government to revise the student fee structure if it becomes difficult to attract a good number of non-UK students.
I am European, how do I know if these changes affect me?
Here it can get a bit confusing and complicated as it depends where you are living now and when you are planning to start your degree. There are three broad categories:
1. If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen planning to take up a UK university offer and move to the UK for the academic year 2021/2022 or later, then you will not have access to home fee status or student loans. While funding is generally very limited, you could look up and apply to university-specific scholarships or scholarships for studying abroad offered by institutions in your home country, if any.
2. If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss student and started your course already (or plan to in the 2020/2021 academic year), then the UK Government confirmed home fees will apply for the duration of your course. If you have one, your student loan will also continue as no retrospective change will be made.
3. If you are an EU, EEA or Swiss citizen already living in the UK and have ‘settled status’ (or indefinite leave to remain in the UK), you may be able to access student loans and qualify under the home fee status, regardless of when you wish to start studying. However, there are some criteria you must meet, such as being ordinarily resident in the UK for at least 3 full years before the start of your course. You can read more about these criteria here.
There are many factors to consider when choosing where to go to university. University rankings, recommendations from friends or family, your financial situation, your grades, the languages you speak, and many other aspects will weigh in your final decision.
The first step towards any good decision is being informed about all your options. If studying in the UK is your dream, make sure you keep some Brexit updates on your social media!
Alexandra Bulat recently passed her PhD viva at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London. Alongside academic research and teaching, Alexandra is a project manager in the third sector for the3million. She has an MPhil from the University of Cambridge, a BA from the University of Sussex and is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA).