Brexit: Implications for UK Students
Written in News & Updates on Wednesday, 29 May 2019 00:00

Brexit: The Implications for UK students

Clearly, the implications of Brexit, for both the UK and the EU, are deep, significant and far-reaching. Here, we are only attempting to summarise our current understanding at the implications for UK students, seeking to study full-time in Europe.

In discussion with European universities, EUNiCAS is certain of only one thing: there is currently high levels of uncertainty concerning these implications. UK students (and, indeed UK universities themselves) have acquired a raft of rights, through the UK’s membership of the EU. Many of these are now threatened.

Uncertainty comes through both the timetable of the UK’s formal withdrawal from the EU, and the negotiations incidental to that withdrawal, where some of the acquired rights of students may, or may not be protected. The UK is currently moving through a 21-month transition period, which started on 29th March 2019, despite the fact that UK had still not agreed, by that date (as originally envisaged) a formal withdrawal agreement. Even if the UK agrees a formal withdrawal deal before the extended deadline for agreeing one, of 30th October, the transition period has already begun and end on 31st December 2020 ......... there is a possibility (though the EU doesn't seem keen on this) that the transition period could be extended. Of course, if there is a no-deal Brexit, before that date, the transition period terminates then. During the transition period, at least, UK students continue to be EU citizens and hold onto their current rights acquired as EU citizens.

The above timetable will mean that students currently enrolling in EU universities are, if they are graduating in 2022 or 2023 (and possibly even later), will hold onto, though probably only for first year of their programme (or the duration of many Masters' programmes) - their rights to provisions such as payment of the EU rate of tuition fees or local student finance.

The following realities are starting to reveal themselves:

Tuition Fees

As EU citizens, UK students are currently able to avail of the same fees payable by students of the EU country, in which their chosen university was located. In public universities, these are invariably much lower than in the UK: free in Germany and the Scandinavian countries and only Eur 2083 pa in the Netherlands. When the UK leaves the EU, UK students will become ‘international students. The country with the most UK students, and the highest number of programmes taught through English, is the Netherlands, where the tuition fees for international students are €8,000 - €10,000. Though the fees are free in Germany and low in Italy, even for international students, there is only a limited range of undergraduate programmes there, taught through English. Those students studying med and veterinary programmes, usually in Italy or Central Europe can be reassured that, usually, the same fees are charged to EU, as to international students.

Please note that some students (including students already studying there), though paying EU fees at the beginning of their programme (e.g. year one ) might find themselves in a situation where the UK formally leaves Europe and they are exposed to international fees in later years. In this situation, some universities are already discussing the possibility of introducing a ‘waiver’ of international fees, in these circumstances. Though, be careful, nothing is agreed yet. This is by no means certain, as this could become a political issue, particularly in those countries, outside the EU, where a lot of students originate, and which countries might not welcome favourable treatment for UK students.

Note that current negotiations concerning the Common Travel Area, between Ireland and the UK, might ensure a continuation of the mutual agreement between those two countries, whereby students from one country pay the same fees, and have access to the same student finance, as students in the home country.

Visas

Currently, UK students have the right to freedom of movement within the EU and do not need to apply for Student Visas. They will probably need to engage in this process, in the event of the UK leaving the EU which, though it can be both troublesome and sometimes expensive, will probably not be major barrier (though might mean longer queues at airports!!).

Student Finance

UK Student Finance cannot be currently taken abroad, though there is a campaign to extend this. As EU citizens, UK students can currently avail of local student finance in some EU countries. Perhaps more significant than fees issues, UK citizens will not be able to avail of this finance, if the UK quits the EU. It is the national governments that decide this entitlement, so the universities are unlikely to have decision-making powers in this field.

Several countries have scholarships that are only open to International Students: these may prove relevant to UK students, in the future.

Student Jobs

EU citizens currently have the right to work in each other's countries (which was possibly one of the drivers of Brexit in the first place!). If the UK leaves the EU, the rights of UK students to take up part-time jobs in EU countries, to help fund their education, are likely to be curtailed, at best.

Health Insurance

Currently, as EU citizens, UK students are covered under the EHIC scheme. Obviously, if the UK withdraws from the EU, students can no longer benefit from this cover, and they will have to arrange their own private health cover.

Health Professions

Currently, UK students studying subjects such as Medicine, Dentistry and Veterinary Science, in EU universities, benefit from EU treaty provisions mutually recognising professional qualifications obtained in fellow member states. The situation, should the UK withdraw from the EU, is far from clear. Organisations such as GMC, BDA and RCVS are yet to clarify their take on likely consequences here. The British Veterinary Association has recently declared:

“In relation to the recognition of degrees, the RCVS explained that the UK could continue to opt into the existing EU Directive, as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland do, or the UK Government could negotiate an alternative form of mutual recognition. Opening a negotiation could provide an option for the RCVS to reject those with qualifications from EU veterinary schools that had not met certain standards”

In summary, no-one really knows what will happen. The UK could find a way to protect the rights of its students in the EU (though US, Australian, Arabian, Indian, Chinese and other Non-EU students will clearly have something to say about that!) or, the UK might never fully leave the EU, bogged down in the minutiae of negotiating rules and regulations required for a successful departure. Parliament might get in the way, or maybe even those calling for a second Referendum will get their way!

Which might just mean ............... our students' rights are protected????