The UK and the European Union should strike a deal on reciprocal student fee arrangements ahead of Brexit, according to a group of British universities.
In a policy paper published on 26 July, the MillionPlus group argues that EU students enrolling in UK higher education institutions should be guaranteed a new “European student status”, meaning that they would pay the same fees as domestic students, not the significantly higher international rate.
In return, EU nations would confirm that UK students would pay local, not international, fees.
The proposal reflects concerns that shifting EU students on to the international fee rate – which, in England, would mean shifting from fees capped at £9,250 annually to fees averaging around £15,000 – could precipitate a massive drop in recruitment from the Continent.
MillionPlus highlighted that similar reciprocal funding arrangements already existed elsewhere – for example, in Scandinavia, and between Australia and New Zealand.
Dave Phoenix, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University and the mission group’s chair, said that such a funding deal would “ensure that UK higher education remains competitive and attractive”.
“As other regional reciprocal arrangements in Australasia and Scandinavia show, this is about common-sense cooperation, not Brexit politics,” Professor Phoenix said.
“The government should seek a Brexit agreement, or an agreement during the implementation period, aimed at a reciprocally beneficial relationship for UK students studying in the EU and EU students studying here. This would be a win-win outcome for both sides.”
The substance of MillionPlus’ proposal is mirrored in an early day motion lodged in the UK’s Parliament by Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake.
The Westminster government has confirmed that EU students enrolling in English universities in 2019-20 will pay the same tuition fees as UK students and remain eligible for student loans, and the Scottish government has confirmed that EU students arriving in 2019-20 would receive free university tuition.
After that, there is less certainty.
Modelling by London Economics for the Higher Education Policy Institute and Kaplan International suggested that EU student numbers in the UK could reduce by 30,000, or 57 per cent, if they were moved on to international fees and lost access to student loans.
The higher fee levels would mean that the net loss from changes for them would amount to only £40 million in the first year.
However, the modelling suggested that the impact could be uneven. The universities of Cambridge and Oxford could gain about £10 million a year in fee income, while some less prestigious institutions could lose about £100,000 a year through reduced EU student numbers.