Brexit’s University Blues

Brexits University Blues

As UK universities weigh the costs of Brexit, student Lauren Wedgewood asks if Irish colleges can seize an opportunity

With A-Level results approaching there is a sense of anxiety looming over many young people’s minds regarding their future. This year in particular presents a notion of uncertainty surrounding the options now available to potential university students.

Almost two months have passed since Britain decided to leave the EU, and while it divided the electorate it seems that young people in particular are facing the most significant impact of the decision. Despite seventy-one-percent of young people (of those who voted) choosing to remain in the EU, these same people are now faced with a particular period of obscurity surrounding the higher education system’s relationship with Europe that may now result in a number of implications for both current and prospective students.

One of the main concerns for young people is the expense of attending a higher education institute, with forty-eight-percent of students finding day-to-day finances a source of stress according to the Times Higher Education. As well as this, many students will undoubtedly be left in debt by the time they finish their studies and it is clear that already the financial implications are a major drawback for potential students.

The effect of the EU referendum will raise more concerns regarding this for both UK and non-UK students alike, with many European students wishing to study or already studying in Britain alarmed about the financial implications that may arise due to their EU status.

Allaying concerns

In order to allay these concerns, the Student Loans Company (SLC) issued a statement saying that “EU nationals or their family members, currently in higher education and who are assessed as eligible will continue to receive loans and grants until they finish their course”. Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, reaffirms this and reassures that there will be no immediate changes to tuition fees paid by current EU students that attend UK universities.

Brexits University Blues

However, there is still the possibility that in the future, EU students (including those from the Republic of Ireland) may have to pay international fees, ranging from £10,000 — £30,000 depending on their course, if they wish to study in Britain. This could possibly deter students from the EU in pursuing higher education in the UK, while also restricting the array of options available for Irish students regarding their choice of university.

The head of the Higher Education Authority, Tom Boland, suggested that many Irish students may opt to study in the Republic of Ireland due to the uncertainty over fees in regards to their immigration status. Boland goes on to state that “in principle Irish students would be treated as international students, thus facing higher fees unless a deal was struck between the UK and Ireland. No government bodies, whether in the EU or the UK, have to date provided any financial proposal for university students, both from the EU and the UK.

Income losses

Fernando M Galan Palomares, the former president of the European Student’s Union, stated that “UK universities will also face a financial loss in their incomes from EU programs, which may end up in an increase of tuition fees in order to compensate”.

This suggests a potential increase in fees for students coming from the EU and an increase for UK students to compensate for the loss of funding. In July, some English universities announced increases in tuition fees with Durham, Kent and Royal Holloway listing their fees for 2017 as £9,250 a year. Sally Hunt, of the UCU lecturers’ union said “those universities foolish enough to advertise higher fees will be doing nothing to quell concerns from students and parents”.

Brexits University Blues

This could deter many students from Britain from even attending university at all. Others may head to Ireland, mainland Europe, Canada, Australia or the US for better value. Job prospects also hang in the balance. Britain’s membership of the EU ensures its citizens are able to live and work anywhere within the 28 countries of the EU without the need for a visa.

The freedom of movement across the EU that could now be denied means that graduates may now only have limited access to the European job market.

In a study by PathMotion, forty nine percent of the country’s top graduate employers said they were likely to lower their intake of graduates if Britain left the EU. A smaller pool of qualified EU graduates may prompt employers to relocate to mainland Europe. But twenty-five-percent of employers did tell the same survey they would be likely to increase recruitment of British graduates.

Brexits University Blues

Russell Group universities have also reported a backlash from across the natural sciences, engineering disciplines and social sciences, with academics being asked to leave EU-funded projects or pull out of leadership roles. In this confidential survey carried out by the Guardian, it was reported that in one case an EU project officer recommended that all UK partners be dropped from the research group because their share of funding was not guaranteed.

In another case, a university reported that two social science collaborations with Dutch universities have been told partners from the UK were not welcome. One university said there had been “a substantial increase in definitive evidence” that EU projects were reluctant to collaborate with British partners. The Russell Group has assured however that they have “reassured current staff and students that their rights to work and study here will continue for the foreseeable future” and that they will continue to “participate in cross-European collaborations and bid for EU funding.”


One of the major advantages of being a member of the EU is the close partnership UK universities have with EU institutions through the Erasmus+ programme. This programme allows students from any EU country to study either a semester or a year in any European university of their choosing.

Already having benefitted over 200,000 students since its establishment in 1987, Erasmus+ provides students with the opportunity to indulge in another culture while widening their academic prospects.

Brexits University Blues

In the light of Brexit, the European Commission has confirmed that as of yet “EU law continues to apply to the full in the UK until the country is no longer a member. This also continues to apply to projects financed through the Erasmus+ programme. Ruth Sinclair-Jones, the scheme’s UK director, asserts that Britain “faces a sad moment of uncertainty, after 30 years of this enrichment of so many lives” and that the potential end of British participation in the Erasmus+ programme would be a “devastating tragedy”.

While the long term implications are still ambiguous, it can be said that students who are currently overseas on an Erasmus+ placement and those who wish to participate in the scheme in 2016/17 will not be affected as of yet by the referendum. In regards to the effect Brexit will have on student mobility between the UK and Ireland, the European Commission also confirmed that student exchange programmes between both countries will continue for at least two years until the UK formally leaves the Uk.

In addition to this, the European University Association stated that “British universities are – and remain – an essential part of the European family of universities … the EUA will continue to work with and for British universities. The Europe of universities will not be divided”. While this sentiment does reassure many, the fact that Britain’s position within the “European family of universities” is uncertain after this two year period has passed is a definite cause for concern.

Visas to study

The process for recruiting EU learners, whether it is from the UK to the rest of the EU and vice versa, will become more complex with potential students having to apply for visas in order to study, ultimately raising the cost of university while also restricting the movement of Europeans and British alike who are not economically capable to fund their studies if they wish to study abroad.

Brexits University Blues

The alliance between UK universities and Irish universities will enter into a particular period of turbulence if plans and proposals are not made between the two countries. Fianna Fail’s education spokesman, Thomas Byrne stresses that both countries “need to ensure that existing students will be able to continue their studies” and that provisions are made “so that current third-level options for students in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Britain remain open to them”.

Trinity College Dublin warned that the Brexit vote will have a “longterm impact” on Irish universities and could ultimately hinder the tradition of students moving between the Islands. According to the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), around 10,905 Irish students are currently studying in the UK, while roughly 1000 from Northern Ireland and 1800 from Britain were studying in Ireland. It could be suggested that this tradition of travelling between the islands to study could cease, with figures provided by the UKCISA showing that the number of Irish students going to study in the UK has lowered each academic year – pre-Brexit.

The number of Irish students going to study in the UK in the upcoming academic year is bound to fall dramatically as a result of Brexit, with many students potentially choosing to stay in Ireland to study or perhaps move further afield to Australia and the USA.

Brexits University Blues

The possibility of the UK admitting less European students also opens the prospect of European students choosing to study in the Republic of Ireland, due to the fact that it is one of the only other predominantly English speaking universities in the European Union while also providing a similar calibre of education.

The Russell Group, a representation of 24 leading UK universities, stated that the vote has created a “significant uncertainty for our leading universities” as “the free movement of talent, the networks, collaborations, critical mass of research activity and funding from EU membership have played a crucial part in the success of Russell Group universities”. Ireland’s higher education system may reap some benefits as a result of Britain’s exit from the EU.

What is clear is that for at least two years there will be no major changes of the status of both UK and Irish students and both the UK and Ireland will aim to devise an agreement that will ensure students will have the same opportunities as before.

Lauren Wedgeworth, from Dollis Hill, is a second year English Literature student at Queen’s University, Belfast.


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