Eastern and central Europe drive crash in EU applications to UK

Demand from some countries has fallen by three-quarters, Ucas data show

July 8, 2021
EU map missing UK, EU referendum, Brexit
Source: iStock

The number of students from central and eastern European countries looking to study an undergraduate degree in the UK this autumn has gone into free fall amid changes to fees and funding brought about by Brexit, new data show.

Latest figures from the admissions body Ucas on applications this year show that the number of applicants from some nations in the European Union have fallen by almost three-quarters on last year.

From this autumn, new students from the European Union will no longer be automatically entitled to the same fees and access to government-backed loans as those enjoyed by domestic students in England.

Some individual universities have decided to keep their fees the same, sometimes through the use of scholarships or special “transitional” arrangements, while EU students in Wales will keep home fee status and access to financial support.

But the vast majority of students from the EU face a hike in the price of an undergraduate degree of up to three times more at some institutions and without access to loans.

According to the latest Ucas figures, the number EU applicants applying for courses by the end of June had fallen by 43 per cent compared with 2020, a bigger drop than that recorded at the last main deadline in January.

If the Republic of Ireland – whose students can still apply to UK universities on the same terms as before due to the existing Common Travel Area agreement between the countries – is removed from the figures, then applicant numbers from EU countries have fallen by even more, dropping by half on 2020.

The drop appears to be driven by a huge fall in interest from countries in central and eastern Europe that previously represented a large share of applicants.

Applicant numbers from Croatia, Poland, Slovakia and Bulgaria have seen the biggest percentage falls, of between 72 and 74 per cent. Together these countries made up about 16 per cent of EU applicants last year; now the proportion is only 6 per cent.

In contrast, the drop in applicants from western European nations has been less severe with France dropping by 30 per cent and Spain and Germany by a third. Applicant numbers from Ireland meanwhile have risen by almost a quarter, the only EU country where there has been an increase.

Despite the drop in EU applications, Ucas is predicting that increases in applications and offer making involving domestic students will see a record number of people starting university or college in the autumn.

There are 10 per cent more UK 18-year-olds applying through Ucas compared with last year, for instance, making almost 1.5 million applications and resulting in around 1.1 million offers.

However, the data also show that although the share of 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas has also reached a new high, of 27 per cent, almost 60 per cent of those from the most advantaged areas are now applying to university.

This gap of 33 percentage points is the highest it has been since 2011 after falling to a low of 30 percentage points two years ago and may cause concerns about the role the pandemic is playing in educational inequality. 


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