Now that the dust is beginning to settle in the wake of the shock EU referendum result, we are perhaps in a better position to understand what Brexit could really mean for university students. However, with Article 50 negotiations yet to even begin, there is still much uncertainty for UK and EU students alike.
In 2012-2013, 5.5 per cent of students studying in the UK were from EU countries, generating £3.7 billion for the UK economy and providing 34,000 jobs in local communities, according to Universities UK.
In the morning following the referendum, Principle-Elect Professor Sally Mapstone sought to “reassure” these students.
In an email, Professor Mapstone stated, “We have woken this morning to a referendum result which will bring fundamental change to the political landscape of Scotland, the United Kingdom and Europe. I’m writing to you to start the process of putting this into context for the University of St Andrews.
Later, she went on to say, “Today, I particularly want to reassure our current students, undergraduate and postgraduate, and offer holders, that the referendum result will not affect fees or support. Where we have made an arrangement with you, we will honour it.”
Nonetheless, there is only so much universities can achieve considering the seismic tremors occurring in the wake of the result. Understandably, many students have a number of lingering questions.
How will the vote impact my job opportunities?
For students from the UK, this will heavily depend upon both the economy and negotiations with Brussels. As witnessed in the past month, there has been a slowdown in the British economy as well as sterling becoming weaker against both the dollar and the euro.
However, there are pockets of optimism, as pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline recently invested £275 million in expanding its UK factories. Chief executive Andrew Witty said that it was a vote of confidence in the UK economy following the Brexit vote.
Students searching for employment in the EU and abroad will undoubtedly have better chances of securing a job if freedom of movement is retained by the UK. Despite concerns over immigration being a main talking point in the Leave campaign, there is still debate about whether freedom of movement will continue as part of Britain’s negotiations with the EU.
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, are, whilst outside the EU, required to commit to the freedom of movement in return for membership to the European Single Market. However it has been speculated that the UK could negotiate limited access to the single market while being able to limit freedom of movement.
The National Union of Students (NUS) released a statement on the subject, reading: “If some form of free movement remains, it could be that broadly the same opportunities will exist as now. If not, then much will depend on the visa and immigration rules put in place”.
Will tuition fees for studying in the EU be affected?
Fees for British students will remain the same as those paid by other EU students until the UK initiates Article 50.
However, once the UK formally leaves the EU, this situation could change. For example, Maastricht University in the Netherlands recently stated that, if Britain leaves, its tuition fees “might” rise. The current fee stands at £1,600 per annum, although the university warned that the amount could rise as much as £8,360.
It is important to consider different EU countries separately: a change to fees is unlikely in Germany, since studying there is generally free to students of any given nationality. In other EU countries, though, individual governments or institutions may take a harsher stance on British students’ fees.
Although tuition fees may rise, it is also likely that the living cost of a UK student studying in the EU would go up. With the pound weaker against the euro, now more than ever the exchange rate are working against students studying abroad.
Will I need a visa to study abroad?
This all depends on negotiations and the access to the EU’s freedom of movement. Even if freedom of movement is not continued, there is a possibility that UK students would become an exempted category and could study in the EU without a visa.
However, it is impossible to determine how likely this would be as, yet again, it all depends upon the negotiation in the coming months.
Will EU students still be eligible for student loans?
There will be no change for EU nationals currently receiving student loans, they will keep receiving funding until the end of their courses.
The Student Loans Company states that the same holds for all students applying for student finance in England and Wales for the 2016-17 academic year. This includes loans to cover tuition fees, maintenance loans, and some other grants and allowances, including the new postgraduate loan.
It is possible that in the future, EU students could be treated as non-EU international students are now, with no fee cap and no form of student support from any part of the UK. The NUS advises students to speak to their universities about changes that are anticipated as a result of the vote.
What impact would the possibility of Scottish independence as a result of Brexit have on students studying or looking to study in the future?
With calls for #indyref2, if Scotland remains in the EU, it will have to continue letting EU students study for free but could perhaps discriminate against students from the rest of the UK.
According to Nick Hillman, Director of Higher Education Policy Institute, “If Britain and Scotland had associate membership of the EU, for example, it’s not an absolute impossibility that they’d have to let English students come in for free as well. If [an independent] Scotland was not in the EU, they could do anything they want,” he adds.
The Scottish government and Universities Scotland have said that, “We want to reassure EU students that there has been no change in current funding arrangements and that eligible EU students already studying in Scotland or commencing their studies in the coming months will continue to benefit from free tuition and, for those who meet the residency requirement, associated living cost support.”
As for St Andrews’ current students, Principle-Elect Sally Mapstone stated that the University will “honour” agreements made with students.
There looks to be no changes to current UK or international student’s fees and it is highly unlikely Scottish student’s right to free higher education is going to be affected by the outcome of the referendum.
However, as a result of new legislation, for many UK students there has been a rise in tuition fees at many universities to £9,250 per year from 2017 and there are fears that the increase could apply to students who have already started courses. The fees will rise with inflation in subsequent years.
The inflation-linked rise represents a 2.8% increase and, if that continues, would mean fees rising above £10,000 in the next few years.
The rise for current students depends upon the approval of individual universities. Whilst St Andrews has not yet made an official statement, the Principle-Elect has stated the referendum result will not affect fees.