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Brexit to worsen EU-student distribution in UK

The distribution of EU students in the UK is likely to become more uneven post-Brexit, with English universities outside large cities experiencing the biggest drop in numbers, a policy briefing by the Centre for Global Higher Education has suggested.

The distribution of EU students in the UK is likely to become more uneven post-Brexit. Photo:Lifestock/Twenty20

London Russell Group universities have the highest numbers of EU students

The briefing, based on CGHE’s research project, ‘Brexit, trade, migration and higher education’, focused on UK higher education institutions’ perceptions of and responses to Brexit and associated challenges.

“The vulnerability of UK universities as a result of Brexit needs to be assessed on an institutional basis”

The briefing’s author, senior research associate at CGHE Ludovic Highman, points out that after Brexit EU students enrolling in the UK are likely to be treated as overseas students, and will no longer benefit from the protection of EU law.

“EU students are particularly vulnerable after Brexit, especially in England,” explained Highman.

“Currently they are treated as home students, but in all likelihood, EU students enrolling in the UK after its withdrawal in March 2019 will be treated as overseas students.”

International students will also pay higher fees and will no longer be eligible for UK tuition loans, which Highman argues, “is likely to worsen the uneven distribution of EU students in the UK”.

While the London-based Russell Group universities were shown to have the highest numbers of non-UK EU students, the briefing data also demonstrate the attractiveness of Scottish universities.

Highman added that post-Brexit, international students’ position might be more favourable in Scotland where free tuition for non-UK EU students was extended by the Scottish government to the 2019-2020 academic year.

She pointed out that universities in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen have held their ground when competing with 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.

“It is possible that higher concentrations of EU students will further relocate to Scotland, though this depends on the level of fees charged beyond 2020,” she warned.

By contrast, Highman explained, English universities outside London and Oxbridge, which already have lower proportions of EU students, are likely to become even less attractive post-Brexit.

“The vulnerability of UK universities as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU needs to be assessed on an institutional basis,” Highman added.

“The UK provides excellent teaching and research…yet despite its ‘world-class’ reputation, the HE sector is hierarchical and various layers are impacted differently by major change.

“We must look at the sector’s diversity to understand Brexit’s meaning”.

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