EU students could face higher fees to study in UK from 2020

Higher education groups call on government to clarify its policy on tuition costs

Charging EU citizens full international student fees to study in England risks “pulling up the drawbridge” after Brexit, higher education leaders and opposition parties have warned, calling on the government to clarify its policy.

Although it has long been assumed that EU students would lose access to loans and pay higher tuition fees after Brexit, a report in Buzzfeed raised fears that the higher fees could soon be imposed on EU students who start courses after the UK’s exit.

EU citizens starting courses at English universities this autumn are eligible for student loans and tuition fees at the same level as English students for the whole of their course. But the Department for Education (DfE) is said to be preparing for higher fees for new EU students starting as early as 2020.

Nick Hillman, the head of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said: “Ever since the referendum, it’s been highly likely that EU students would come to face the higher fees charged to those from other countries. Morally, it would be exceedingly hard to defend charging richer Germans less than poorer Indians if we are not in the EU.

“But fee levels are only part of the picture. EU students can currently take out loans with the Student Loans Company to pay their fees and the loans don’t need to be repaid until later on. Losing access to the loans matters as much as the headline fee, because suddenly they will have to find the money upfront.”

Universities UK, the group representing 140 UK higher education institutions, urged the DfE to clarify its intentions while the UK remained in Brexit limbo.

“It is essential there is no further delay in the UK government confirming the fee status for EU students starting courses at English universities in autumn 2020. The recruitment cycle is already well under way,” a spokesperson for Universities UK said.

“The ongoing uncertainty is restricting student choice and the ability of English universities to recruit the best students from the EU. Whatever the eventual fee status of EU nationals, universities need at least 18 months’ notice of any change.”

Since the referendum in 2016, the government in England has extended the current agreement of reciprocal fees each year, guaranteeing access to loans and domestic tuition fees for the duration of a degree course.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Last year, we announced that students from the EU starting courses in England in the 2019-20 academic year will continue to be eligible for home fee status, which means they will be charged the same tuition fees as UK students.

“The government will provide sufficient notice for prospective EU students on fee arrangements ahead of the 2020-21 academic year and subsequent years in the future.”

The Scottish government has already announced that EU students who start courses in September 2020 will still be eligible for home fee status, which in Scotland means no tuition fees for undergraduates. Wales has yet to announce its plans for 2020 onwards.

The DfE is developing a new immigration policy for post-Brexit study, including for students from the EU, who currently have no visa restrictions. But if the UK remains in the EU after next autumn, then pressure will grow on the DfE to extend the policy for at least a further year.

The University and College Union, which represents many university staff, said the policy, and the government’s chaotic handling of Brexit, will “send a clear message to the world that Britain is pulling up the drawbridge for international students”.

Both Labour and Change UK condemned the change as likely to deter EU students, with Change UK’s education spokeswoman, Ann Coffey, saying: “This is another example of Brexit damaging both our public services and our economy.”

Jo Grady, a Sheffield University lecturer who is a candidate in UCU’s forthcoming election for general secretary, said the policy would be an extension of the “hostile environment” masterminded by the Home Office under Theresa May.

“As with many other aspects of the EU, this government has never welcomed EU students and never appreciated the many reciprocal benefits we get from the agreement to charge them home fees, including the benefit of enabling our own students to study in the EU more cheaply or for free,” Grady said.

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Richard Adams Education editor

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