Universities UK has urged the government to ensure that students from the European Union can “study in the UK with minimal barriers” after it emerged that there are plans to charge EU students the same tuition fees as other international students at English universities from 2021.
The proposal, which would also withdraw financial support for EU nationals, would scrap home fee status for EU students starting courses in the 2021-22 academic year, regardless of whether the UK leaves the bloc with or without a deal.
The plan, first reported by BuzzFeed, was made by the education secretary, Damian Hinds.
The changes could lead to a significant drop in the number of EU students at English universities and might result in UK students being charged higher fees by universities on the Continent.
Last year, the government guaranteed home fee status for new EU students starting courses in English universities in 2019-20. But there has been no clarity over the rates for the 2020-21 academic year.
The Scottish government has already guaranteed home fee status for EU students starting courses this year and in 2020-21.
A spokeswoman at Universities UK said institutions needed at least “18 months’ notice of any change” in the fee status of EU nationals and urged the government to confirm the rates for EU students starting courses at English universities in autumn 2020.
“The recruitment cycle is already well under way. The ongoing uncertainty is restricting student choice and the ability of English universities to recruit the best students from the EU,” the spokeswoman said.
She added that “any post-Brexit immigration policy should ensure that overseas students – from the EU and beyond – are able to study in the UK with minimal barriers”.
“An attractive offer to students will signal that the UK is open to talented individuals from around the world, and our employers and economy alike will benefit from this talent. Students from overseas enhance the educational environment in our universities, benefiting all students,” the spokeswoman said.
David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham and a former higher education minister, tweeted that raising tuition fees for EU students “is awful news for our universities”, adding that UK students will “inevitably end up paying more to study in Europe”.
However, Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said on Twitter that if the UK leaves the EU, “there is no moral case for subsidising relatively wealthy EU students while making a surplus from relatively poor Indians/Chinese/Nigerians etc”.
Speaking in the House of Commons on 29 April, Chris Skidmore, the universities minister, agreed that “it is not right that we should discriminate against our international students" by charging EU students home fees post-Brexit.
However, he stressed that “no decision has yet been made on the continued access to student finance for EU students”, adding that “discussions at Cabinet level are ongoing and should remain confidential”.
Mr Skidmore added that the government would be making an announcement on the fee levels for EU students for the 2020-21 academic year “shortly”, in advance of the opening of applications in September.