Brexit could present “new opportunities” including the chance to use money “saved” on loans for European Union students to fund UK students to study abroad, according to the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute.
In a speech delivered at the University of Derby on 4 July, Nick Hillman argued that “the full consequences of EU withdrawal for UK higher education institutions are more nuanced than some of the debates to date have suggested”.
At present, students from EU and European Economic Area nations attending English universities are entitled to Student Loans Company loans and their fees are capped at £9,000.
But one scenario if the UK were to leave the EU (and not become part of the EEA) is that universities would be able to charge these students the higher fees currently charged to non-EU students. However, EU and EEA students would also no longer be entitled to public fee loans, potentially deterring them from attending English universities.
Mr Hillman said that some have warned “that Brexit will lead to a funding crisis as students from other EU nations are deterred from coming to the UK. Yet, while fewer EU students would make our campuses less diverse and risk the global reputation of our universities, it would not necessarily affect their income.
“You could charge more to each EU student who does still come, as you do for your other international students. Or you could opt to keep your fees for those from EU states at £9,000 or thereabouts and offer a competitive advantage against other UK institutions who move their EU students on to the higher international fee level.”
Mr Hillman added that he was “not advising you to do either of those things and, even if you did, you might conceivably still be out of pocket”, but merely arguing that “we are only now coming to think about all the questions and not all the possible answers are obvious”.
He continued: “There may even be new opportunities. Imagine, for example, if one response to Brexit was to spend the funds saved by no longer having to pay loans to EU students...on a new and ambitious outward mobility strategy in which UK citizens are encouraged to spend time studying abroad.”
Finding savings from EU loan funding may prove complex, as student loans are not classed as orthodox public spending.
But Mr Hillman said that such a scheme “could help to ensure that we do not cut ourselves off. After all, if the next prime minister is to maintain the commitment to reducing net inward migration and if we do end up leaving the EU, we are going to need to think creatively about the best policies for the future.”