How Will Brexit Impact University Tuition Fees? The Government Has Made An Important Announcement

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The break-up between the EU and UK may have been delayed until October 31, but students across Europe are still wondering how Brexit will affect their tuition fees and student loans. Their worries aren't without good reason. In the 2017/18 academic year, almost 140,000 EU students were enrolled in a UK university, according to the Study in UK website. And 2019 application data shows that more than 37,000 EU citizens have applied for undergraduate degrees in England.

Under current laws, EU citizens are treated as domestic students and therefore don't have to pay international fees in the UK. Citizens who have lived in the UK for five years are also entitled to maintenance loans, reports the Guardian. The government had previously confirmed that EU students starting university in 2019 wouldn't be affected by Brexit legislation, reports Times Higher Education, but hadn't given a concrete answer for the years afterwards.

Now, the Department for Education has finally confirmed that EU students attending English universities in 2020 will still be entitled to domestic fees and loans for the duration of their course. (Back in April, the Scottish government announced the same thing, reports the BBC.)

"We know that students will be considering their university options for next year already, which is why we are confirming now that eligible EU nationals will continue to benefit from home fee status and can access financial support for the 20/21 academic year, so they have the certainty they need to make their choice," universities minister Chris Skidmore said in a statement.

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But there is still no confirmation over what will happen to EU students starting university after this period. "Work to determine the future fee status for new EU students after the 2020/21 academic year is ongoing," continues the Department for Education statement, adding that "sufficient notice" will be given.

This will do little to calm the nerves of prospective EU students. As the Guardian reports, international students outside of the EU can currently pay £15,000 a year more than domestic students. If EU students were to face the same bill, they'd probably be likely to look elsewhere.

Post-Brexit, however, it could be viewed as unfair to charge other international students more than EU citizens. "Morally, it would be exceedingly hard to defend charging richer Germans less than poorer Indians if we are not in the EU," head of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, told the Guardian in April.

"But fee levels are only part of the picture," he added. "EU students can currently take out loans with the Student Loans Company to pay their fees and the loans don’t need to be repaid until later on. Losing access to the loans matters as much as the headline fee, because suddenly they will have to find the money upfront.”

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The question over what will happen to UK citizens studying in an EU country also remains unanswered. The Erasmus programme — an initiative that helps a large number of UK students study abroad, reports the BBC — may no longer include the UK unless a separate agreement is made.

Guidance from the government has been issued, stating that Erasmus funding will continue until the end of 2020 as long as the UK leaves the EU under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. If it crashes out via a no deal, the scenario will be completely different and negotiations will have to take place.

UK citizens will still have other study abroad options. As student money site Save the Student points out, Germany and Norway tend not to charge international students a penny. Countries including Sweden, Finland, and Denmark are other cheap (but not free) alternatives. Students may also be able to arrange a year abroad as part of their UK university degree.

Those starting university before the 2021/22 academic year seem safe. But those planning to study abroad after that can do nothing but watch this space.