UK could lose 57 per cent of EU student numbers, says DfE study

Government finally publishes modelling that estimates loss of £63 million for UK universities from drop in enrolment of new EU students

February 9, 2021

Modelling kept under wraps by the UK government for nearly two years estimates that Brexit could cost the nation’s universities nearly two-thirds of their European Union student enrolment and £63 million in one year, but that Oxford and Cambridge will boost their income.

In the wake of Brexit, EU students have lost their access to UK student loans and will also no longer be subject to the same automatic tuition fee caps as home students – meaning that they will likely face upfront fees and that universities can charge them the much higher full fees charged to non-EU overseas students.

The report for the Department for Education, prepared by London Economics, models the potential impact on UK universities’ EU undergraduate and postgraduate recruitment from those changes, along with that of EU students having the same, limited post-graduation rights to work in the UK as non-EU students, and the same restrictions on their rights to bring family to the UK as non-EU students.

Last year, the DfE refused a Freedom of Information request from Times Higher Education to release the report, saying that “with discussions with the EU over our future trading relationship ongoing, there are reasonable grounds to delay publication in this case in order to avoid it affecting our future negotiations”.

The report, originally scheduled for publication in April 2019, has now been published, following the end of the UK government’s trade negotiations with the EU.

The report draws together data on university income and EU student numbers to produce data on the amount of money universities gain from that source, and it models the potential future impact on EU student demand by looking at the impact that the move from an upfront fee to a loans system in 2006 had on recruitment.

Taking all four changes for EU students together, the “estimated combined impact of all of these policy changes would be to reduce tuition fee income from EU sources by approximately £62.5 million, with 35,540 (57 per cent) fewer first-year EU enrolments,” the report concludes.

The report takes into account that while EU student demand is likely to fall, universities will be able to offset that by charging higher fees.

But it also makes clear that “the aggregate impact on fee income masks significant variation” across different kinds of universities.

The report uses previous analysis that groups UK universities into four “clusters”. According to this prior analysis, “Oxford and Cambridge ‘emerge as an elite tier’ (Cluster 1), with the remaining Russell Group universities essentially undifferentiated from the majority of other pre-1992 universities (Clusters 2 and 3)”, but “with around a quarter of post-1992 universities forming a ‘distinctive lower tier’ (Cluster 4)”, the report says.

The report, which uses various scenarios for how many and which universities are in each cluster, explores how demand is likely to vary across the clusters, in which universities have different levels of EU recruitment and different strengths in prestige.

It concludes that universities in Cluster 1 “would benefit in aggregate; whereas institutions in Clusters 2, 3 and 4 would be worse off”.

Cluster 1 universities “would be better off by £8.37 million on average in terms of tuition fee income generated from the 2016-17 cohort,” the report says of its main estimates. “In contrast, institutions in Cluster 2, 3 and 4 would be financially worse off, with losses of £0.85 million, £1.60 million and £1.42 million per institution (on average, respectively),” it adds.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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