EU students face threefold fee hike at some English universities

But about 20 universities appear to be keeping fees at UK levels for at least one more year, according to The Knowledge Partnership database

July 8, 2021
An anti-Brexit activist holds EU-flag-themed balloons outside of the Houses of Parliament in 2019 illustrating rise in university fees for EU students in England
Source: Getty

Students from the European Union choosing to study in England face fees up to three times higher due to Brexit changes that are expected to take effect this autumn, data seen by Times Higher Education have shown.

At about a quarter of English universities, new EU undergraduates will be charged an average of more than £18,500 a year − at least double the fee their counterparts were charged this year − while almost a third of institutions will have an average master’s fee for EU students that is twice the 2020-21 rate.

However, a small number of universities have decided to hold EU fees to the same level as for UK students this year to avoid the price jump potentially damaging recruitment, the data show.

The analysis comes from the latest editions of The Knowledge Partnership’s 2021-22 course and tuition fee databases, a comprehensive benchmarking dataset that lists the fees and discounts available for every known course offered by public UK universities.

It shows that the average international fee that students will be charged across all courses this year will reach up to £34,000 at “Golden Triangle” universities – research-intensive institutions in Oxford, Cambridge and London − and as much as £25,000 elsewhere.

This represents a huge hike for EU undergraduates and postgraduates, who last year were charged the same as UK students: £9,250 for bachelor’s courses and an average of about £9,000 across the whole sector for a master’s. Only students from the Republic of Ireland will continue to have the same fee status owing to a separate agreement between the countries.

In addition to the price hike, Brexit means that from this autumn, EU students will no longer have access to loans from the UK government to pay for fees, creating a double disincentive to study in England. Arrangements elsewhere in the UK vary; for instance, in Wales, EU students will continue to have home fee status and financial support, but in Scotland they will be charged fees for the first time after receiving free tuition in the past.

The impact of the changes on recruitment already appears to be feeding through into hard data, with the UK’s admissions body, Ucas, reporting that applications from EU students for undergraduate courses had plummeted by 40 per cent this year.

Last month, a report from England’s university regulator, the Office for Students, said that universities were forecasting EU enrolments to fall by about 40,000 students by 2024-25.

However, the same report also said that, overall, institutions were not expecting this to hit them too hard financially, with EU fee income forecast to only drop 1 per cent, although there was a wide variation between the most selective universities (up almost 20 per cent) and least selective (down 40 per cent).

The Knowledge Partnership (TKP)’s data indicate that about 20 English universities are charging EU students the same fees as UK students in 2021-22 across undergraduate or postgraduate courses or both.

Some institutions say it is a “transitional” arrangement or scholarship to help them cope with the change, according to their websites, wording possibly designed to avoid any potential for legal challenge over different types of international students facing different fees.

Janet Latham, senior market insight analyst at TKP, said the different approaches taken by universities to EU fees depended on factors including the size of previous cohorts and the countries they recruited from. For instance, TKP research has shown eastern European students to be more price sensitive than those further west.

“Those without large numbers may see it as worth reducing the fee, as the potential loss in revenue will not be huge” if recruitment does fall, while it “may place them at an advantage for attracting those [students] who are price sensitive”, she said.

“The other view is that if EU students account for a high proportion of an institution’s student body, there will be concerns a loss in numbers will not be filled from other markets, and so reduced fees could be a strategy to address this.”

Ms Latham added that although previous patterns following fee hikes – such as the tripling of undergraduate fees in 2012 – suggested demand may bounce back after an initial slump, she was “less sure” this would happen with EU students this time around.

“The UK may remain a cheaper option than the US, but with a number of other European universities appearing to be increasing the number of courses taught in English, there is the option to study in a different European country without facing the high fees of the UK.”

David Green, vice-chancellor of the University of Worcester, said they had decided to keep EU fees the same as for UK students for two years while “EU students, parents and supporters get used to new funding arrangements”.

The university had “long been an attractive destination for EU students” whose presence “enriches the learning environment and experience for all our students”, he added.

Vivienne Stern, director of Universities UK International, said EU students faced “a big adjustment” over the fee and loan changes.

She said “many universities have been thinking about how they can extend their scholarship strategy to the EU region in view of their change of status, in line with the way they support other international students, and we are calling on the UK government to do the same”.

“We would expect that in the longer term, the high quality and economic relevance of UK degrees will continue to appeal to students from the EU, just as it does students from around the world,” she added.

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: EU students face fee hike at English universities

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