Required reading: how will Brexit affect students?

Wherever you look Brexit has the been the most dominant news item for the last three years. But what impact is this having on higher education policy, and more importantly the future for university students? 

May 14 2019
brexit, higher education, university, tuition fees

I am struggling to remember a time when Brexit wasn’t a term that was flaunted daily and I’m sure many of you feel the same. It has now been nearly three years since the UK voted to leave the EU and it seems that we are no closer to leaving with a deal than we were back then. 

Regardless of what your opinion is on the issue, it is clear that Brexit has diverted the attention of politicians for too long, allowing other crucial issues to slip through the cracks. Some of these key issues (higher education focused ones anyway) are the future of international student exchange programmes, reviews of post-18 education and tuition fees for EU students. 

It is a shame that the indecision and political turmoil is impacting students and their futures. We can only hope that a deal is reached soon. A new Brexit deadline has been set for 31 October and for the sake of higher education let’s hope that the politicians can stick to it this time. 

Cut in fees?

In February 2018, UK prime minister Theresa May announced a review of post-18 education in the UK. The aim of the review was to look at reforms that could be made to the higher education sector in the UK. One of the key things that the review will look at is a potential reduction in tuition fees at UK universities. Currently tuition fees for students in the UK stand at £9,250, with even higher rates for international students. However, an aspect of the review that I'm sure all students would welcome is the proposal to reduce tuition fees to £7,500. 

However, there is a catch. The review which was due to be published in the vague time frame of spring 2019 has now been delayed. It is unclear when the findings will be published, but as Brexit has been delayed until 31 October, it is unlikely to be any time soon. Part of the reason why this review is so tied to Brexit is down to the fact that if university fees are cut it is unclear where (or if) the additional funding will come from for universities. The government is unlikely to commit to a funding plan for higher education when the country’s finances are so uncertain before a Brexit deal is made. 

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The future of Erasmus

One of the greatest joys of going to university is having the opportunity to study abroad. However the UK’s future in the Erasmus programme, a Europe-wide student exchange programme, is hanging in the balance. The UK government has pledged that funding would still be available for students undertaking Erasmus exchanges until the end of 2020, but what happens after that? Will students be able to benefit from a study abroad stint as easily as they do now?

The UK universities minister Chris Skidmore revealed that there was potential for the UK to develop it's own version of the Erasmus scheme which would help to facilitate the exchange of students. However, some experts are concerned that this scheme is not being driven forward fast enough in the event that the UK does not continue its participation in the Erasmus scheme. And from my point of view, a student exchange programme that is exclusive to the UK could bring up a number of limitations, with the UK higher education sector having to rebuild its relationships with mainland Europe all over again. 

You don’t really need me to tell you how much a blow it would be to no longer have a well-oiled scheme to assist students in studying abroad. For many students their time spent abroad is the most valuable part of their university career, and the majority of students that do it have only good things to say. Research shows that even a short stint abroad can lead to higher levels of confidence, developed language skills, better teamwork and problem-solving skills, and can be a great stepping stone to helping students secure employment. 

Increase in fees for EU students — going in and out of UK

Post-Brexit plans are not just bad news for UK students wishing to study in mainland Europe. Proposals from the education secretary Damian Hinds have stated that from 2021 the UK may start charging overseas EU students the same fees as other international students, instead of charging them the same as UK students. This means that EU students could then expect to pay anything between £10,000 and £35,000 a year to attend a university in the UK. This could happen whether the UK leaves the EU with or without a deal. Home fee rates have been guaranteed for 2019-20, but it is unclear as to what the plan will be after this. 

This could greatly impact on the number of students from Europe choosing to study in the UK. Having heard some students from the EU say that they felt “unwelcome” in the UK following the Brexit vote, this increase in fees may further discourage students from choosing the UK. 

Required Reading is the regular blog from Times Higher Education student editor Seeta Bhardwa  

Read more: Which visa do you need to stay in the UK after university? 

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