DfE keeps EU student paper secret ‘to avoid affecting’ trade talks

Refusal to release report on post-Brexit demand raises question of whether fee and loan arrangements will feature in UK-EU trade talks

March 11, 2020
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The UK government is refusing to release a study on how potential reduced demand from European Union students could hit university finances after Brexit, to “avoid it affecting” trade talks with the bloc – highlighting how higher education arrangements could feature in negotiations.

The Department for Education has rejected a Freedom of Information request from Times Higher Education to release a report from consultants London Economics looking at the likely impact of Brexit on EU student demand at UK universities, originally scheduled for publication in April 2019.

The report is said to offer a similar analysis to one compiled by London Economics for the Higher Education Policy Institute in 2017, which found that raising EU student fees to the levels currently charged to non-EU overseas students and removing access to fee loans could reduce enrolment from EU nations by 30,000, representing a 57 per cent decline at that time and a £40 million hit to sector income.

Reports last year indicated that the government could withdraw EU students’ home fee status and access to public student loans from 2021-22 onwards, in the wake of the UK’s departure from the EU. But the government has not made a formal statement confirming its stance on the issue.

The DfE says in its FoI response to THE that it is withholding the London Economics report from release because it is intended for future publication.

The report “will be published once the negotiations concerning the UK’s future relationship with the EU have concluded”, the department says.

It adds that “with discussions with the EU over our future trading relationship ongoing, there are reasonable grounds to delay publication in this case in order to avoid it affecting our future negotiations”.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, was asked on 2 March in the House of Commons by SNP MP Carol Monaghan “whether EU students will be treated as international students from 2021 in respect of their fee and immigration status”.

Ms Donelan replied that “the details are currently being negotiated”.

The UK’s trade negotiations with the EU formally began on 2 March. THE reported in 2017 that the UK government had discussed internally the concept of offering access to public student loans for overseas students studying at British universities in potential post-Brexit trade deals with foreign governments – including the EU.

If the UK were to join the EU’s next Erasmus+ student mobility programme, starting in 2021, that could add to pressure on it to continue granting lower fees and loan access to EU students. The government’s document on its approach to the wider negotiations says that the UK will “consider options for participation in elements of Erasmus+ on a time-limited basis, provided the terms are in the UK’s interests”.

MillionPlus, the association of modern universities, has previously called for a UK-EU agreement on “reciprocal student exchange”, allowing EU nationals enrolling at UK universities to be granted “similar terms” to home students, with UK students studying in the EU also paying local fees rather than international student ones.

Greg Walker, MillionPlus chief executive, said: “UK universities are beginning to look at recruitment for 2021 entry and remain in the dark about the very legal basis of their potential offer to prospective students from Europe.

“An early position statement from the government before June this year would be enormously helpful to universities as they begin to publish their prospectuses.”

THE reported last month that, in the absence of clarity from the government, some English universities were exploring whether they could opt themselves to continue to charge EU students lower fees.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: DfE keeps study on EU students secret to avoid affecting trade talks

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Reader's comments (1)

£40M? OK, but which Universities will that affect, the 'rich' Oxbridge set, middling Russell group members, or the allegedly poorer post 92 Uni's? For those that have put too many eggs in the overseas student basket, with the effects of Covid-19 as well, it might be too much, the warning signs were there years ago, long before Brexit, reliance on overseas student income was foolhardy at best. Prepare for mergers, and asset strippers, we do indeed live in interesting times. Oh and I support the Governments stance in not giving away any advantage to the E.U. by releasing the information, for Brexit to work the UK has to be as hard with the E.U. as the E.U. has tried to be with the UK.

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