Sun 25 October 2020

In keeping with Boris Johnson’s closed-borders mentality, prohibitive financial barriers now face EU students wanting to move to the UK, reports Sam Bright

The Government is set to hike the cost of moving to the UK for EU students, the Home Office has revealed.

An information document released by Priti Patel’s department lays out the costs faced by students after we leave the comfort of the Brexit transition period next year.

EU nationals who want to study in the UK will be asked to pay £348 for a visa, and then an extra £300 for use of the NHS – what is known as the ‘immigration health surcharge’.

With the surcharge imminently set to increase, as soon as mid-October, the cost to foreign students will rise to £470 – taking their total upfront bill to £818. This is more than double the current cost of moving to the UK as an EU student.

However, this could be a drop in the ocean for European students considering the UK as a potential university destination.

Levelling Up Little Britain

As a member of the EU’s Erasmus+ student exchange scheme, UK universities welcome thousands of budding scholars from the continent every year. Under the rules of the scheme, students pay no tuition fees at the foreign institution they have temporarily joined, instead paying domestic rates (often with a discount).

So if a student from France decided to spend a year at a university in England, they would pay the tuition fees required by their home, French university.

Given the quality of the UK’s academic institutions, this provides a major incentive for EU students to venture across the Channel. Tuition fees are on average much lower in EU countries compared to England, which means they benefit from a healthy discount.

Average Annual Tuition Fees in EU Countries (Undergraduate)

Austria: Free
Belgium: €900
France: €170
Germany: Free
Italy: €950-€4,000
Spain: €750-€2,100
England: €10,500

However, the UK has failed to reach an agreement with the EU to remain in the Erasmus+ programme after the conclusion of the transition period. Earlier this year, a motion came before the House of Commons asking the Government to commit, as one of its negotiating objectives, to keeping the UK in Erasmus+.

Boris Johnson’s Conservative administration rejected this proposal, and has since made little effort to preserve the current student exchange system. Indeed it has been muted that the Government is considering establishing its own Erasmus+ programme, if talks with the EU fall through, though details of this alternative scheme have been scant.

If 2021 sees the end of the UK’s academic alliance with the EU, studying in this country would suddenly become prohibitively expensive. EU nationals would presumably be treated the same as all other international students, who shell out eye-watering fees for their UK education. Here are a few examples of international fees currently paid for courses in the UK:

Per-year Undergraduate Fees for International Students

History, University of York: £18,350
All courses, Oxford University: £27,770 to £37,150
Science and Engineering Degrees, University of Manchester: £24,000
All courses, London School of Economics: £22,430

Facing the prospect of paying £20,000 a-year, rather than a few hundred or a few thousand Euros, EU students will inevitably choose to stay on the continent for their education.

Will the absence of a few thousand beer-swilling students make a difference to the UK? The short answer is: yes. These are highly-skilled, typically multilingual individuals who may choose to remain in the UK after studying here – or return when they have graduated in their home countries.

They are future academics, scientists and business-leaders who contribute to the culture and the economy of the UK; precisely the sort of people who “level-up” the country, as Johnson’s likes to propound.

Instead, these people will take their talents to Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam. Not exactly the vision of ‘Global Britain’ that Brexit promised.

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