What Brexit means for international students in the UK

On the eve of Brexit, the most important event to have taken place in the 21st century Europe, its outcomes are still unknown. Though Brexit is less than three months away, no one knows for sure what's in it for travelers, business persons, and even students.

After the UK Parliament voted to reject an agreement on Britain's withdrawal from the European Union on January 16, a very short period remains for things to get clearer. The number of those that will be directly affected by Brexit is high, due to the number of internationals living in the UK.

Ranked as the second country in the world with the highest population of international students, the UK continues to lure bright students around the world with its renowned universities and qualitative education system.

It is estimated that currently there are around 450k international students, including from the EU, studying in the UK.

According to Study in UK, the number of international applications at UK universities, including applications from the EU, increased in 2018 despite Brexit.  Statistics highlight that the number of applications of students from the rest of the EU countries (not including the UK) grew by 2%, whereas the number of applications from countries in the rest of the world increased by 8%.

Students Currently Studying in the UK

The UK has been one of the top study destinations for EU nationals as well. Currently, around 30% of the total number of international students in the UK, are from EU countries.

Previously, the UK government announced that EU students still enrolled at UK universities at the time Brexit takes place, will benefit "transitional protection". This means, these students will keep enjoying the support they receive, as access in student loans. So far, students coming from EU countries have paid the same university fees as UK nationals. They are also are exempt from the student visa requirement, unlike the rest of the international students.

According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), the relevant authorities in England, Scotland and Wales have given assurance that there will be no changes to the fee status or student support for the EU students who are enrolled in UK universities in or before the 2019/2020 academic year. However, Northern Ireland has not yet given any assurances.

The UK Home Office has also announced that all EU citizens, including students wishing to remain in the UK after 30 June 2021 will need to apply for settled and pre-settled status  for EU citizens.

EU Students in post-Brexit UK

Although no changes have been confirmed for the2020/2021 academic year and the following years, many believe that an increase in student fees will be inescapable.

At the same time, if the EU and UK reach a deal prior to March 29, EU nationals may still be waived from the visa requirement when it comes to studying in the UK. Nevertheless, if the UK leaves without a deal, which seems very likely to happen now, things may get a bit more complicated for students.

In the worst-case scenario, the EU students will be treated the same as the other international students, which means they will need to apply for student visas and pay the same fees as the rest of the international students in the UK.

The application process for a UK visa consists of several procedures, including attending an interview and paying a fee of £348.

The increase of expenses due to possible increase in university and visa fees may cause a significant decrease in the number of EU nationals interested to study in the UK.

The effect of Brexit on non-EU students

Non-EU nationals currently studying in the UK and those planning to study there after Brexit, will probably be affected less than those coming from the EU countries. They will still need to apply for a UK student visa and pay the university fees, as they have done so far.

However, if the UK applies the visa regime to EU students, the number of student visa applicants may thus increase. This will most certainly result in an extended period of visa processing. In addition, the UK consulates and Home Office might be in need of extra staff in order to deal with visa processing, the outcome of which may be a slight increase in the cost of a visa for all students.

The future of Erasmus+ Exchange Programme in Britain

Estimated to be one of the greatest culture and character building educational programmes of the EU, the Erasmus+ has given the chance to many international students to study for a minimum of one semester at any of the UK universities. However, after the UK leaves the European Union, it will no longer be part of the programme.

Previously, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the scheme would continue until at least 2020. Later, starting 2021, the scheme would stop being available for studies in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

However, in 2016 the European University Association said that British institutions will remain 'an essential part of the European family'. Thus, the UK may be able to hold a different kind of Erasmus membership, similar to that which non-EU countries hold, such as Iceland, Norway, Turkey, Liechtenstein, and Macedonia.

Diana Omladič

Freelance journalist


[email protected]

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