This blog was kindly contributed by David Hawkins, Director and Founder at the University Guys.
Much of the debate in the UK about international student for the 2020 application cycle has ignored one key issue: the choices that students might make about coming in 2020 or 2021 may not take place on a level playing field for fee status, particularly for those who, due to residency or their passport, count as an European Economic Area (EEA) applicants.
With no guidance yet from the UK Government about the fee status of EEA students attending UK universities following the currently scheduled end of the transition period, there is a cliff-edge approaching.
At present, students entering universities in Scotland from the EEA this September will pay no tuition fees. Meanwhile those entering universities in England will pay the same home fee of £9,250 and there are also fees to pay in Wales and Northern Ireland, although these do not have to be paid upfront thanks to tuition fee loans from Student Finance. This has been the case for a number of years, making the UK a very attractive study destination for students from across the EEA. Scottish universities in particular have seen huge interest from students in Central and Eastern Europe attracted to a high-quality free education, but across the entire UK higher education sector there has been an increasing reliance on EEA students, particularly on courses involving language study.
However, this may change after the end of the Brexit transition period. With no deal between the EU and the UK, the legal default is that international fees for study at UK universities will apply to EEA citizens. For a student hoping to study in Scotland for free, that is a huge financial difference – for Medicine a cost of over £30,000 a year in tuition fees alone and fees ranging from around £12,000 to £25,000 elsewhere in the UK university sector.
Anecdotal evidence from Scottish boarding schools suggests students are aware of this, with students from the EEA choosing to enter universities this year after completing their Highers instead of staying for a further year and taking some Advanced Highers.
For EEA-status students – many of whom may also be British citizens but due to living outside the UK do not qualify as home students – there is a significant incentive to continue to enrol in September 2020, rather than waiting until 2021. [Update: Anna Perry (@BonsoirAnna) has helpfully pointed out in response to this article that, last year, the Government promised a ‘seven-year transition period will ensure that eligible UK nationals living in the EEA or Switzerland wishing to study in further education 19+, higher education, or undertake an apprenticeship in England, will be able to do so immediately on their return to the UK during this transition period.’ However, the details remain sketchy.]
Much remains unclear about people’s fee status. For example, if a student is physically at home in the EEA but taking online classes, will that count? If a student is accepted in the 2020 application but their places is deferred until January or September 2021 – either by the university or by an inability to travel – will they still qualify for the pre-2021 fee status?
When we consider whether students impacted by Covid-19 will still choose to come to the UK this autumn, either virtually or physically, the impact of this tuition-fee cliff edge needs to be considered – including Universities UK’s suggestion today that the fee/loan arrangements for EU students should be kept ‘as they are for one further year’.
Last week, David blogged on ‘Students with non-UK university offers are being kept in the dark about what the new A-Level system means for their futures.’