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UK unis look to transition scholarships and discounts to maintain EU numbers

Individual universities in the UK are introducing scholarships for students from countries in the European Union in a bid to maintain enrolments from the continent following their loss of home fee status.

EU students would not have been "planning for new fee structures" that they are now subject to, stakeholders highlighted. Photo: Unsplash

UKCISA said its members remain committed to "diversity of the international student population"

Institutions have launched “transition” programs for EU domiciled students starting courses in the 2021/22 academic year, which mean they will be offered fees equivalent to home students, or have revealed automatic scholarships offering fee discounts.

Others have extended eligibility criteria for international scholarships to include students from EU countries.

“A lot of UK universities will be looking to offer some level of scholarship or discounts”

“Cost appears to be the biggest factor among EU students overall when it comes to studying abroad – and when it comes to concerns about changes from 2021 onwards,” a spokesperson from the British Council said. “According to our research and insights, there is a lot of interest in these scholarships.”

Around 7.5% of students at the University of Southampton were from within the EU in 2019/20, hosting 1,240 undergraduate and 460 postgraduate students from the region. It is one higher education institution that has announced an EU scholarship, offering £5,000 fee reduction to undergraduate and postgraduate students.

According to HESA statistics for the 2019/20 academic year, 53 higher education providers in the UK enrolled more than 1,000 students from EU countries. Growth in international enrolments was from non-EU countries in 2019/20.

University College London, King’s College London and Coventry University had the most EU students, enrolling 4,880, 4,400 and 3,820 EU students in 2019/20, respectively.

However, not all providers have launched specialist EU-focused scholarships. None of the 10 UK institutions with the most EU students in 2019/20 have announced transition scholarships or automatic discounts.

Transition scholarships, such as at the University of Portsmouth, offer new students from the EU, EEA or Switzerland equivalent fees to UK students in 2021/22.

Bobby Mehta, director of UoP Global and chair of BUILA, said that scholarships and discounts “during this transition period are very important as there will be lots of students that were planning to come to the UK from the EU in September 2021”.

“They would not have been planning for new fee structures that they would be subject to,” he said.

“I am aware that a lot of UK universities will be looking to offer some level of scholarship or discounts and it would be worth any prospective students contacting the university they are interested in studying at to find out what is available.”

Universities in Scotland have also launched similar initiatives to retain EU enrolments on their campuses.

“It’s great that universities get proactive to ensure classroom diversity even after Brexit. But it’s going to be a real marketing challenge,” Gerrit Bruno Blöss, CEO of Study.eu said.

“Most students decide early on in which countries to look for study options. If universities’ efforts at offering scholarships or discounts to EU students remain fragmented, general awareness of these options will remain low. And that might mean that many students won’t realise that studying in the UK doesn’t have to be as expensive as it first seems.”

At an government Education Sector Advisory Group meeting in July 2020, UUKi called for sector co-funded scholarships – similar to the British Council GREAT scholarships model – in addition to a “single portal” for international students on scholarships and commercial loans.

The British Council added that its Study UK Europe: Gateway to the UK online education fair in October-November 2020 saw “overwhelming interest” in fee-related webinars.

“Our post-event survey among participating students confirmed costs of tuition and costs of living as the most important considerations for EU students,” the organisation said.

Its research around student attitude in France, Germany, Greece, Poland and Spain towards UK study option – conducted in early 2020 – found that course fees and cost of living were the biggest concern when it came to studying abroad.

It also found that the quality of UK education is “viewed as world-leading across EU member states”, with a 96% net approval rating for its courses and quality of teaching and 82% rating for employment prospects.

UK government strategies such as British Council’s Study UK campaign will “be ensuring that positive messages are being sent to students in the EU making them aware of the fantastic higher education opportunities that are still open to them in the UK”, Mehta continued.

“Attracting students from the EU in the immediate future will be a challenge due to the current Covid-19 issues around the globe and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU – however it is very clear that the UK will still be a very attractive option for EU students due to the quality and reputation the the UK higher education sector has around the globe,” Mehta added.

Diversity on campuses is “vital”, he added, as outlined in Portsmouth’s Global Engagement Strategy.

“EU students have helped enriched the experience of all our students and all universities in the UK will be looking to maintain their EU student numbers as we move forward,” Mehta told The PIE News.

Other ways UK institutions are promoting their offers in the EU are through “targeted online platforms, working harder to strengthen their relationships with partners, key contacts, high schools and university partners throughout the EU”, he said.

“Universities will be working hard to… continue to provide a higher level, personable service to students and partners whilst providing additional support, guidance and advice around visas, fees and scholarships to ensure that the applicant journey will go as smoothly as possible for all prospective EU students interested or wanting to study in the UK in September 2021,” he added.

“Until the law is amended to reflect the new fee status, admissions teams cannot legally act on the government guidance”

UKCISA said its members remain committed to “diversity of the international student population”.

“[EU citizens] make a vital contribution to the rich diversity on campus, bringing language, culture and ideas that benefit all,” policy manager at the Russell Group Joanna Burton added, and the organisation is “still waiting for the legal certainty of fee status for EU students”.

“Until the law is amended to reflect the new fee status, admissions teams cannot legally act on the government guidance. We are looking for government to rectify this at the earliest opportunity,” Burton added.

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