Brexit: Implications for UK Students
Written in News & Updates on Tuesday, 09 August 2016 17:53

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 look at the implications for UK students, seeking to study in Europe, in an increasingly globalised (at least, beyond the white cliffs of Dover) employment and education environment.

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’s formal withdrawal needs to be triggered by formal notice under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon. This notice has not yet been served and, currently, a courts case is being taken to circumscribe the rights of PM Teresa May to trigger this provision. If Article 50 is triggered, there follows a period of negotiations, which will last 2 years, or more, during which the UK will negotiate the terms of its withdrawal. During this period, UK students continue to be EU citizens and hold onto the rights acquired as EU citizens.

The above timetable will mean that students currently enrolled in EU universities are, if they are graduating in 2017 or 2018 (and possibly even later), unlikely to lose rights to provisions such as payment of the EU rate of tuition fees or local student finance. Students enrolling this year and next might benefit from an extended period of negotiations and graduate before the UK formally leaves the EU.

There is talk of the UK joining EEA or EFTA which, if they are successful, is likely to protect many of the student rights outlined below. However, to successfully join one of these free-trade organisations, the UK will likely be required to sign up to freedom of movement provisions which were at the root of the rationale for many of those seeking to leave the EU. So, it would be a risky proposition to rely on the UK becoming a member of EEA or EFTA

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 Eur1984 pa in the Netherlands. When the UK leaves the EU, UK students will become ‘international students. The two countries with the most UK students, and the highest number of programmes taught through English, are the Netherlands and Denmark. In the Netherlands, the fees for international students are €6,000 - €12,000. In Denmark, they are €6,000 - €16,000. Though the fees in Germany are free, 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.

Some countries (and some universities) are starting to talk about exempting UK students from international fees, particularly if they have started on a programme, paying EU Fees.


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.

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.Several countries (e.g. Denmark and the Netherlands) have student loan systems which can be availed of by EU Citizens studying in that country. Perhaps more significant than fees issues, UK citizens will not be able to avail of these, if the UK quits the EU. It is the governments that decide this entitlement, so the universities are unlikely to have decision-making powers in this field.

Please note that some students, though paying EU fees at the beginning of their programme (e.g. years one and two) might find themselves in a situation where the UK formally leaves Europe and they are exposed to international fees in Year 3. 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.

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

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.

Of course there are other likely implications to students for the UK deciding to stand alone, outside Europe, including increased Travel costs, reduced access to an open Employment Market and the end of the participation of UK Universities in the Erasmus student exchange programme.

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!

Or, of course, it might just leave ……………whether or not those who voted for it to leave ever meant for that to happen!