Brexit – How does the European Union affect universities and students?
On 24 June 2016, it was officially announced that the British public had voted to leave the European Union (EU). To help you make sense of how Brexit affects young people, particularly in higher education, we here at The Complete University Guide have put together a quick guide to what EU membership means to universities and students:
The ability to study abroad with ease
- The EU’s freedom of movement rules enable easier immigration to other European countries, thus simplifying the process of studying abroad for both UK and EU students alike. Under the Erasmus scheme, over 200,000 UK students have studied at European universities.
- The number of EU students in the UK stands at around 125,000 (roughly 5%), which in turn is estimated to have contributed £2.7bn to the British economy, as well as 19,000 extra jobs.
- Residents of EU nations are usually able to study in other EU nations as 'home students'. Compared to the fees charged to international students, home fees are generally lower or non-existent.
- In the UK, international students tend to pay between £15,000–£25,000/year for the same course. Therefore, given that most UK universities charge £9,000/year, home status will typically save an EU student £18,000–£48,000 over the course of a three year undergraduate degree.
- Scottish students studying in a select group of EU universities are able to apply for the same bursary and loan support as students attending a Scottish university. While the initiative currently only caters for students at five universities in Europe, the Scottish government has said that if the pilot scheme is successful they will consider the possibility of extending it to other EU countries.
- Huge numbers of staff at UK universities, both academic and otherwise, come from the EU. To take just one example, nearly a quarter of the staff at the University of Kent are from non-British EU countries.
- The EU gives UK universities a huge amount of money every year. Swansea University, for example, recently opened a new science and innovation campus at a cost of £475m – a project that would not have been possible without the financial support of the European Union.
- While the UK does pay membership fees to the EU, the financial return on universities represents a profit. Having provided 11% of the EU’s overall budget, the UK received 15.5% of the funds available during the last seven-year EU funding programme (FP7). Included within this was disproportionate financial reward from EU academic mobility and foreign exchange programmes, with the UK collecting almost €1.1bn (almost 25% of the funds available) over FP7.
- In addition to general funding, the EU also makes substantial financial contributions to research in UK universities. Research funding from the EU amounts to around £1bn/year, and as Britain’s own national research budget is below international averages, Europe’s share of UK universities’ total income has risen by over 30% in five years. In some cases this has meant that the EU’s share of a single university’s income has increased to as much as 15%.
- Funding from the ERC (widely considered to be the most prestigious research programme of all) is allocated solely on the basis of research excellence. UK-based research has thus far secured over 20% of all funds disbursed, and between 2007–13, four British institutions were among the 10 most successful recipients.
- Thanks to EU membership, the UK is able to form increasingly global teams of researchers. From 1981–2014, the proportion of UK research published under just a UK address reduced from 84% to 48% (in context, the United States’ figure was 67%).
- In academic cirlces it is widely thought that the best research is done by people working internationally. As such, Britain punches above its weight in this area and has the highest proportion of the world’s most highly-cited scientific research articles (15.9%, placing it above even the United States). This statistic stands out all the more given that Britain has just 0.9% of the world’s population, 3.2% of global research and development expenditure and only 4.1% of the world’s researchers.
While the EU undoubtedly plays some part (be it big or small) in these circumstances, it should be noted that not all of the above is guaranteed to change. The precise nature of any Brexit deal will be determined under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, and areas such as research (particularly collaborations) may remain as they are.
Amidst the uncertainty regarding the impact of Brexit, UK universities and other associated organisations have issued statements reassuring students that there should be no immediate changes to the higher education sector.
- Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, has confirmed that EU nationals who are currently in receipt of student loans from the Student Loans Company (SLC) will continue to receive funding until they finish their course. This also applies to any EU nationals, or their family members, who have applied for a place at university in the academic year starting in August 2016.
- A number of universities have issued statements that echo Jo Johnson's message. It has also been made clear that in addition to tuition fees not changing next year, any students already enrolled or enrolling in 2016/17 will not be subject to any future increases that arise from Brexit.
- There has also been a confirmation that there will be no immediate changes to the UK university sector's involvement in EU initiatives such as Horizon 2020 and the Erasmus Programme. Regarding Erasmus, both incoming and outgoing students on the scheme will continue with their exchanges as planned.
- The Russell Group (formed of some of the top ranking universities in the UK) has commented on Brexit, saying that they are already working closely with the government to ensure that universities and the research community receive the best possible outcome from the negotiations to leave the European Union.
While UK universities are urging students to remain calm, they are, of course, not the only ones affected in the higher education sector. Universities across Europe will be keeping a close eye on how Brexit unfolds, in particular to see if UK students will still be classified as Home/EU when paying fees. British students study at universities across the EU, and any change to their fees classification will undoubtedly impact on European universities' student intake and financial income.
- Maastricht University, one of the leading higher education providers in The Netherlands, has encouraged UK students to apply sooner rather than later if they wish to take advantage of the nation's signficantly lower tuition fees. British students at Maastricht currently pay around £1,600/year, however this could rise by over £5,000/year if no agreement is reached to maintain the status quo.
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