Students from the European Union wishing to study in Britain from the 2021 academic year will have to pay higher fees because of Brexit, the UK government has confirmed.
"Following our decision to leave the EU, EU, other EEA [European Economic Area] and Swiss nationals will no longer be eligible for home fee status, undergraduate, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support from Student Finance England for courses starting in academic year 2021/22," universities minister Michelle Donelan said in a written statement to parliament on Tuesday.
Until now, EU students shared the same status as their British counterparts and as such paid the same fees. They could also access UK government loans to pay those fees.
Currently, British and EU nationals pay fees of up to £9,250 (€10,210) per year for an undergraduate degree.
The fees for international students vary from between £10,000 (€11,040) and £38,000 (€41,945) depending on the university and the degree.
In her statement, Donelan said Irish nationals are exempted from the change as are EU, EEA and Swiss nationals already in the UK or those who start their university education in the 2020/2021 academic year because of protection offered by the Withdrawal Agreement.
The UK officially exited the EU on January 31 but entered into a transition period until the end of December during which citizens' rights are unchanged.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, described the government decision as "not a huge surprise".
He stressed, however, that "in the past, we have shown that higher fees and no more access to student loans could risk a decline of around 60 per cent in the number of EU students coming to the UK to study. If that happens, our universities will be less diverse and less open to influences from other countries."
But, he continued, "it would be morally and legally difficult charging lower fees to EU citizens that we already charge for people from the rest of the world once Brexit has taken full effect".
"Moreover, history suggests that the education on offer in our universities is something people are willing to pay for," he went on, calling for the government to nevertheless "adopt sensible post-Brexit migration rules".
Universities UK, which represents 137 higher education institutions across Great Britain, said "universities would have preferred the certainty of current arrangements for EU students in England being extended for those starting courses in 2021/2022".
"Overseas students — from the EU and beyond — should be able to study in the UK with minimal barriers. International students enhance the educational environment in our universities, benefitting all students, and are an integral part of our society and culture," it added.