Brexit and higher fees blamed for fewer EU citizens applying to study in the UK

by Ray Clancy on July 13, 2017

Fewer people are applying to go to university in the UK and there has been a drop in numbers from European Union countries, which could be down to cost and Brexit.

The latest official figures from the admissions service UCAS shows that for those entering university for the new term starting in September there was a 4% fall overall and for applicants from the EU there was a 5% fall.


However, applications from countries outside of the EU have increased, up 2%, which suggests that EU applicants may be put off by the Brexit negotiations and not knowing what their immigration status will be if they start a new course that normally lasts for at least three years.

Britain is currently at loggerheads with the EU about the immigration status of EU citizens once Brexit is complete in March 2019. But if a student from the EU starts this year they are unlikely to finish a degree course before that and therefore don’t know what requirements would be needed.

The fall in applicants from within the UK is being put down to costs, with fees in England, for example, increasing from £9,000 a year to £9,200 this year. The Welsh Government is also considering a fee rise.

Dr Mark Corver, UCAS director of analysis and research, said that the decrease in applicants is driven by falls from England, Wales and the EU, but applicants from other overseas countries are up 2%.

‘How these trends translate into students at university and colleges will become clear over the next six weeks as applicants get their results and secure their places, and new applicants apply direct to UCAS’ clearing process,’ he added.

Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group, said it would be a concern if EU students were being put off by the uncertainties of Brexit. ‘It’s positive that applications from overseas students outside the EU have risen slightly. International students bring social and cultural diversity to our campuses and this benefits all students, and they contribute £25.8 billion to the UK economy,’ she pointed out.

There are several possible reasons for the drop in numbers, according to Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent. ‘Last year was a record high for applications and, factors such as Brexit and changes to the way degrees in nursing, midwifery and some other allied health professions in England are funded, could also be having an impact,’ she said.

‘There are a number of issues to address. Continuing to communicate to European applicants that they are welcome and enrich our education system is important. We recognise the concern about the total cost of going to university. Any analysis needs to cover the cost of maintenance and the interest rate on the loans,’ she added.

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