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EU Applications Continue to Dive Post-Brexit

EU applications at the University of St Andrews are down 56% since 2020, coinciding with a surge in tuition fees after Brexit. EU and Swiss nationals are no longer entitled to the £1,820 home fee status in Scotland, which was previously required by EU legislation.

Tuition jumped to £25,100 for EU students starting a course in September 2021 – in line with other international applicants in the collective “overseas” fee status. Those applying for medicine in September 2023 must cough up £35,920 per year to study at the University.

EU applications at the University have continued to fall each year from the levels recorded before the fee change. Previously, around 4,000 EU applications were submitted on UCAS each year. In the 2022 application cycle, 1,735 EU students applied to UCAS courses, down from 2,260 in 2021.

Unlike the case for American students, where the University of St Andrews may be cheaper than domestic universities, it is now considerably more expensive to attend university in Scotland than universities on the continent. Many universities in Europe are completely free for students from the EU. The increased cost of university is likely to have deterred some EU students from making an application at St Andrews.

Kieran Galpin, Deputy Features Editor for The Saint, compared St Andrews with Lund University in Sweden. Lund stands close to St Andrews in the QS World Rankings 2022, but it is completely free for EU students. Mr Galpin argues that post-Brexit fee changes will test the University’s ability to attract EU students.

The Saint analysis of data for the first full post-Brexit year shows that whilst EU applications have fallen significantly, levels of enrolment at the University have stayed the same. This shows that the University of St Andrews has not followed the nationwide trend, where EU students enrolling in British universities has more than halved since Brexit. In the UK, students from Italy, Germany, and France are experiencing the biggest drops in enrolment since Brexit, according to Higher Education Student Authority (HESA).

At the University of St Andrews, 985 EU students enrolled for the 2021/22 academic year. This has been a level of enrolment maintained throughout the period before and after the UK’s departure from the EU.

The data provided by HESA reveals the University’s commitment to maintain its balance of nationalities. The University has previously told The Saint, “One the great strengths of our university is the mix of nationalities, cultures and world views across our student body, and we have no plans to change that balance, or increase the numbers of students in St Andrews.”

The result of the University’s balancing strategy has been a surge in the enrolment rate of EU students. Whilst the actual standards of entry have not changed, the proportion of those receiving offers from the pool of applicants has climbed after Brexit, according to data provided by UCAS and HESA.

The offer rate for a place studying International Relations at the University reveals the palpable impact that fee status makes. In 2020, just over 1% of EU applicants received offers in IR, according to a recent Freedom of Information request. This stands in contrast with the 74% of non-EU international students that received offers to study the same course.

This discrepancy has changed, following the fall in EU applications and the University’s aim to maintain its student makeup. As EU students will no longer be funded by the Scottish government, MSPs have said that the number of places awarded to Scottish students will increase, as funding is redistributed to Scottish applicants.

Currently, Universities are told by the Scottish Government exactly how many Scottish students they can admit, and universities are fined if they go over or under the figure they are given.

The University has told The Saint, “The issue of the fees paid by the Scottish Government present a challenge to all universities, as these frequently don’t cover the actual cost of teaching.”

Richard Lochhead, MSP and former Minister for Higher Education has stated that the number of university places for students from Scotland would rise as a result of Brexit. Mr Lochhead said, “As a result of EU law, we have treated EU students in the same way we treat students from Scotland. They do not pay tuition fees.”

“It is with a heavy heart that we have taken the difficult decision to end free education for new EU students from the academic year 2021/22 onwards as a consequence of Brexit.”

Brexit has also resulted in the UK's withdrawal from the Erasmus programme, which promotes short-term exchanges between European institutions and awards students with monthly funding while they study or work abroad.

The Erasmus programme has been replaced by the Turing scheme in the UK. Rather than focusing only on travel inside the EU like Erasmus, the new scheme attempts to finance student travel across the world.

Another key difference is that Erasmus sets out budgets for six or seven years. In the new Turing scheme, participant universities must apply for funding annually. This means that there is greater uncertainty on the number of students an institution can send abroad each year. It is individual universities that submit funding applications for the programmes they want to run under the scheme – this year the Turing scheme rejected 19 higher education institutions’ applications.

The Turing scheme has been confirmed at the University of St Andrews until 2024-2025 and the University has committed to bid annually.

As EU applicants fall at the University, there has been a significant increase in international student applications from outside the EU. Aftershocks of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will continue to be seen across higher education in the country. Whilst there may be some cause for concern as EU applications fall, for the time being, you would not notice from the numbers of EU students at St Andrews.

Source: UCAS. Analysis by Hannah Kershaw and Georgy Kamensky for The Saint, 2023

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