The Future of EU Students and Academics in a Post-Brexit Britain

Josie Smith, January 25, 2019

Brexit: The White Paper on Immigration

It’s 2019, which means only one thing: it’s the ‘Year of Brexit’! With the UK’s exit from the EU due to be initiated in a matter of months without an agreed deal, concerns are mounting about some of the bigger questions for which the government has yet to provide answers. One of the key concerns is the stability of the future for EU students and academics moving to the UK post-Brexit. UK universities are warning the government that the uncertainty of Brexit and the looming possibility of a no-deal could constitute one of the biggest threats ever faced by the sector.

A recent government White Paper on Immigration denotes policy plans that will end free movement to the UK, requiring those who want to work or to study in the country to obtain permission beforehand. Broad plans have been stipulated in The White Paper about keeping links open for students and research however little detail has been provided with regards to the practicalities of this process.

A Popular Study Location

The UK is a hugely popular choice for international students and academics, with some of its best universities consistently ranked as world-class institutions for higher education. Figures released in the summer of 2018 confirmed that there were currently 135,000 EU students studying and 36,000 academic staff employed at UK universities. The largest concentration of EU students is found in Russell Group universities, London institutions and Scottish universities.

An Uncertain Future

Currently, EU students are charged the same fees as students from the rest of the UK and are also eligible for the same loans and grants. The UK government has already confirmed that there will be no changes for EU students coming to the UK to study at higher education institutions this autumn 2019. The Scottish government has a made similar promise; Scottish universities are especially attractive to incoming prospective students from the EU because they do not charge tuition fees. However, after the transition period ends at the end of 2020 the future of prospective students is unclear. It is likely that Brexit could result in EU students having to pay similar fees to other international students. but much has still to be revealed about the future of funding and enabling student migration in a post-Brexit world.

2018/19: The EU Intake Declines

Indeed, this lack of clarity regarding questions of movement, visas and fees are believed to have contributed to a decline in applicants for the 2018/2019 intake at UK universities. The number of EU students enrolling for the recent academic year was 23,310, down by three per cent after several years of growth. Interestingly, this contrasts with a slight rise in initial acceptances to UK universities for the 2018 start date. This suggests that many decided against studying in the UK after questions regarding migration and funding remained unanswered.

UK universities witnessed a 9% decrease in EU postgraduate research students this academic year – the largest ever seen.  Universities believe this figure has been affected by the uncertainty surrounding how funding will be provided for research projects in the UK if these institutions become ineligible. The next research round of EU funding, due in 2020, is worth almost one hundred billion euros. Should the UK government be unable to compensate UK institutions for the funding lost, the UK could become a far less attractive choice for future EU academics and researchers.

Finding Solutions: ‘Dual Nationality’

Across the UK and the EU, people have been finding their own solutions to give themselves security as we head towards an uncertain future. One of these solutions is the surge in applications for ‘dual nationality’. 13,700 people living outside of the UK applied for a British passport in 2016, up by over a third on the previous year.

Imperial College London joined forces last year with the Technical University of Munich to establish an ‘academic dual nationality’ for its staff, of which a quarter are from EU countries. This dual nationality arrangement allows these London-based academics to remain eligible for research projects funded by the EU because Munich Technical University will still have access. Imperial is one of the four biggest recipients of EU research money alongside Oxford, Cambridge and University College London. Imperial has also announced a co-funded project with France’s National Centre for Scientific Research to establish a maths laboratory in London. Again, this is to ensure its UK mathematicians have the same access to funding as the French staff.

UK Prospects

The prospect of UK universities being able to attract the same level of EU applicants after the UK makes its exit from the European Union is as yet uncertain. The government still has much to do to reassure both students and staff alike that the future of study in the UK for EU nationals is not at risk.

Written by Josephine Smith - Administrative Intern at Alchemy Recruitment Ltd.

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