5 April 2018

Policy briefing: Brexit will worsen uneven distribution of EU students in UK

A CGHE policy briefing published today outlines the potential impact of Brexit on the UK’s international student body.

The briefing shows that the distribution of EU students in the UK is likely to become more uneven, with English universities outside large cities experiencing the biggest drop in EU student numbers.

In the briefing, Dr Ludovic Highman, Senior Research Associate at CGHE, points out that after Brexit, EU students enrolling in the UK will in all likelihood be treated as overseas students, meaning they will no longer benefit from the protection of EU law and the principle of non-discrimination between home and other EU nationals. They will pay higher fees and will no longer be eligible for UK tuition loans.

Dr Highman argues that this is likely to worsen the uneven distribution of EU students in the UK. Currently, Russell Group universities and universities located in London and Scotland are most attractive to EU students. In Scotland, free tuition for non-UK EU students was extended by the Scottish government to the 2019-2020 academic year. Universities in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen compete with the top London universities, attracting more EU students than Oxbridge, while the University of Aberdeen has the highest percentage of EU students of any university in the UK.

Dr Highman predicts that higher concentrations of EU students will relocate to Scotland after Brexit, although Scotland’s tuition fee system beyond 2020 may change. By contrast, English universities outside London and Oxbridge, which already have lower proportions of EU students, are likely to become even less attractive post-Brexit.

The briefing draws on CGHE’s research project, Brexit, trade, migration and higher education, which is part of The UK in a Changing Europe initiative. It focuses on UK higher education institutions’ perceptions of and responses to Brexit and associated challenges.