Brexit has ended £bns of UK subsidies for educating EU’s youth

Graham Charles Lear
5 min readFeb 11, 2022

At last, we are treating Austrian students the same as Australian and American students

The official figures for students in UK higher education have now been published for 2021 by UCAS, showing an increase of almost 21,000 students enrolled since the UK left the EU.

Against all the usual doom-mongering about the effect of Brexit on our universities and colleges, it turns out that not only have student numbers increased but educational institutions are now able to benefit from greater incomes.

Numbers up, potential incomes up, EU27 subsidies down

Today we look at higher education and how removing the subsidies for EU students receiving tuition fees and student loans (that were often never repaid) is creating more places for British students — up by 29,390.

I also show how the UK is now treating all international students equally, with more non-EU students gaining entry — up by 12,595.

Total student numbers increase in first post-Brexit year

Overall student numbers in the UK up by 20,790
British student numbers up by 29,390
Non-EU international student numbers up by 12,595
EU27 student numbers down by 21,195
NET EFFECT: An increase in all student numbers of 2.9% — ‘despite Brexit’

UK-funded tuition fees for EU students

Following Brexit, the UK can now charge EU citizens the same price as international non-EU students for attending UK universities. Previously, EU rules meant EU citizens at UK universities were entitled to the same lower fees as were charged to UK citizens. In effect, this meant the UK taxpayer subsidising EU students. In many cases, university fees are not repaid for many years — if at all.

UK-funded student loans for EU students

Similar to the above arrangements for tuition fees, EU citizens were entitled to UK student loans on the same favourable terms as UK students in each jurisdiction. A 2017 study found that the UK’s Student Loans Company had failed to recoup £1.2 billion of loans from EU27 students, particularly those who had moved home or out of the UK after attending university. Very simply EU students were able to apply for loans knowing that they could easily avoid ever paying them back. This benefit to EU students has now ended.

The ‘free’ Scottish tuition fee subsidy

The rule on tuition fees applied to the jurisdictions of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland charging the fees within the UK. Thus when the Scottish Parliament retained free tuition fees for ‘home’ students the same free fee arrangements had to be made available to EU students.

In one of the most partisan moves of the SNP Government in Edinburgh, students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland were not given the same free tuition as students from the EU — but were charged for their tuition. This policy has had to end from the academic year 2021/22 with EU students now charged the same international student rate.

The unintended consequence of this policy was that to afford the cost of ‘free’ tuition for Scots and EU students (as the universities still have to be paid for the student place) a limit was put on Scots’ student numbers. To make up for this ‘cap’ Scottish universities were giving preference to the more ‘lucrative’ English, Welsh and Northern Irish students at the expense of ‘home’ Scottish students being denied places.

Teaching people to speak English

Thanks to Brexit the UK can now more reasonably manage the cost to the public exchequer of providing English-as-a-Foreign-Language (EFL) lessons for free movement families.

Associated with the above is the unquantified but significant cost to the taxpayer of providing EFL in secondary schools for the children of EU free movement families.

It is interesting to look through the various economic and social studies conducted by universities and educational vested interests as they looked for arguments to defend open access to UK higher education for EU students. The focus was always on the loss of income to the universities or the economy and never on the savings to the hard-pressed British taxpayer who was to all intents and purposes subsidising EU students to study in the UK.

Yes, raising tuition fees to the same level that a student from Australia or North America would be expected to pay would inevitably reduce numbers and therefore university income and the generation of local economic activity. This, however, would be offset by the remaining EU students paying the higher international fee — in some cases significantly higher.

It would also mean the gap created by those EU students deciding that without a subsidy they would not come to our shores would be filled by international students paying the full fee. This is indeed beginning to happen. This latter cohort will bring significant revenues to British universities.

We all recall the howls of anguish and protests in the early 80s when the Education Secretary, Mark Carlisle, allowed universities to charge ‘Overseas Student Fees’ at an economic rate compared to the domestic rate (that was ‘free’ but paid by the public purse). The protesters argued overseas students would be priced out of attending and numbers would drop — but the reverse happened. Universities recognised there was now a new revenue stream to be exploited and very quickly Overseas Students (now called International Students) mushroomed. The protests disappeared and were very quickly forgotten.

The point here is that those defending the open access to EU students granted through freedom of movement forget how discriminatory it was against students from Africa, Asia, South America, North America and many non-EU European countries. Or there is another way of looking at it, and that the fact Remainer/Rejoiners are actually racists

Now Brexit Britain can treat all international students equally. The argument that our universities will be bereft of international cultures and life experiences are completely wrong. As a result of Brexit, our campuses can now be even more diverse and culturally enriching for all the students attending. I think the figures in the table above show this is the direction of travel for our universities. You will NEVER hear the alternative to Rejoiner myths in the liberal pro-EU media and especially not the BBC, Guardian or Mirror.

Sources: UK Gov official statistics | Department of Education | UCAS

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Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.