UK university population becoming ‘more British’ post-Brexit

Brexit and Covid-19 have led to the first increase in the UK student proportion since the late 2000s, analysis shows

September 1, 2021
People in Union Jack costumes
Source: Getty

The UK’s university population is already becoming “more British” post-Brexit, as plummeting numbers of European Union students means the proportion of UK students is on the rise.

Data from admissions service Ucas, 15 days after A-level results, show that UK students now account for 89 per cent of placed applicants, up from 86 per cent last year.

Analysis by education consultancy DataHE showed that this year would constitute the first increase in the share of UK students since the late 2000s.

This year also saw a record number of UK applicants placed on results day, although DataHE estimates that, following a quiet clearing period, the final number of students will be about 450,000 to 460,000 − similar to the 2020 total of 454,000 but still an increase on 2019 numbers.

However, 2021 saw a 59 per cent drop in EU students placed at a UK university two weeks after results day, from 27,510 to 11,390. Numbers of non-EU international students have gone up by 7 per cent so far this year to 44,240 in total.

“EU student numbers are set to plunge this year to levels not seen for decades,” said Mark Corver, co-founder of DataHE and a former director of analysis and research at Ucas.

His analysis found that there were notable falls of about 80 per cent in recruitment from countries such as Poland and Bulgaria. Following Brexit, this autumn is the first year that students from the EU will have to pay full international fees.

The drop in EU students is stark in Scotland, where they have gone from paying no fees to being charged international fees. The number of EU students in Scottish institutions dropped by 64 per cent, from 3,700 to 1,320.

The drop has corresponded with an increase in Scottish students getting places at Scottish universities, whose student numbers are capped. This year, Scottish students will make up 74 per cent of Scotland’s university population, compared with 71 per cent last year.

For finance directors, the fall in EU numbers may not be as bad as it appears, due to the massive fees they now pay as international students, Dr Corver said.

“One of the things we’ve said [to universities] is that we expect UK students to become more important to volumes, finances and so on, because demand is likely to grow faster here than elsewhere,” he added.

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that while there were some positives – particularly in Scotland, where there has been a mismatch between supply and demand for local applicants for years – there were concerns about future changes in international proportions.

“I’m clearly pleased that lots of British students are going to get the benefit of attending university, but the balances are a worry,” he said. “One reason is that all educational settings, including universities, are best when there’s a diverse body of students. You learn from sitting next to people from other cultures, other backgrounds, speaking other languages.”

He added that this was particularly important as the UK was “catastrophically bad” at teaching modern languages and benefits from having European linguists studying and then staying to teach in the UK.

“I also worry that it will impact on the socio-economic breakdown of students, with only the richest European students able to study here,” he added. “Brexit and Covid have led to the erection of national boundaries unseen before.”


Print headline: Campuses ‘more British’ post-Brexit

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles

Reader's comments (3)

What a novel idea! British Universities for the British. Frankly, this is to be expected following Brexit with fee hikes everywhere. The phenomenon certainly did not deserve a whole article. A note, perhaps.
Perhaps not just hike in fees, but more likely the loss of access to student loans ?
International students pay international fees and that is what talent from across the world who come to study in universities in this country have been doing for ages. UK universities are among the most internationally diverse universities in the world. If you have academics that care about their students and can impart the education in a way that is exciting, relevant and useful then students will come. With social media it is now so easy to get information about any place and right from students who have been to those places. In anycase it would be useful to remind ourselves that UK publicly funded universities have a key and central role to play in the education of the next generation of british citizens. They dont exist to generate financial returns that go to a select few. “I also worry that it will impact on the socio-economic breakdown of students, with only the richest European students able to study here,” - right, did not see these concerns voiced about socio-economic breakdown of students from other parts of the world..that only the richest chinese, indian or nigerian students might be able to study here? that is not an issue? Nothing to do with Brexit but UK universities have always lagged far behind the generosity of US universities in giving scholarships etc. to deserving talent from all corners of the world.