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Brexit and University applications to the UK - Carolina T.

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

On the 31st of January, 2020, the United Kingdom officially withdrew from the European Union (EU). The UK is the first and, so far, the only sovereign country to leave the EU. This occurrence has had an impact both on the country and the rest of the world; especially on countries which are members of the EU.


We are all aware that Brexit has led to changes including the European Union’s power, the UK’s independence and the lives of people living both in the UK and outside - mainly those from European countries. However, I will not be directly speaking about the political and economic issues and changes that have risen as a result of Brexit. This is rather an observation on something that is linked to both of those issues; university applications.


As a 16 year old student, the topic of which universities I aspire to apply to is an incessant and persistent one. Not only is it present in conversations with adults, friends and family, but it is also a question I ask myself constantly. Looking at the choices the Year 13 pupils at Runnymede are beginning to make, I can see a slight change in the pattern. There are less applications to the UK: still many, but fewer than in the years previous to Brexit. Last year in January, UCAS released statistics which showed that approximately 40% less EU students applied to UK universities through UCAS in 2021 than in 2020. Only a years’ difference for such a drastic change. There are numerous reasons for this, but it is clear that Brexit is most definitely one of them and is placed high up on the list of main causes.


The aftermath of Brexit can be seen at Runnymede College as well. Runnymede university destinations of 2022 include universities in the UK, the US, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Italy and Ireland. Out of all of these, 43 are to the UK and 43 are to other countries (outside of the UK). Is this 50-50 ratio a result of Brexit? Or is there just more knowledge about the distinguished universities in the rest of the world?


Not only do we seem to be more aware of the level of education in highly regarded universities in Europe, but they have made themselves be noticed too. In the UK, the viable system of higher-education application processing, UCAS, was formed in 1992. In other countries, there might have been a lack of a straight-forward system, yet they seem to be adapting and encouraging students to apply by having a simpler system which is much more feasible. Additionally, more courses in English have been added. The Bachelors in IE Universities in Spain are fully delivered in English to tempt foreigners to study there and to encourage students to be more open to the global world, as English is thought of as the main international language.

It is important to highlight that within the subject of how Brexit has affected university applications to the UK, there is a division in the different causes. Are students unwilling to attend or even apply because of economic concerns? Or has it got more to do with their ideological beliefs?


On the 1st of August, 2021 the United Kingdom government announced that students coming from the EU or the EEA (European Economic Area) will not be entitled to the home fee status, meaning that they will have to pay international student fees. Many who wanted to complete their undergraduate or postgraduate courses in this country might be faced with an insurmountable obstacle in the price. Others might be reluctant to study in the UK because they feel rejected by it, as the country chose to separate itself from the European Union, an organisation that many European countries are proud to be members of.


In addition to these barriers that make it less likely for European international students to be willing to apply, they might also feel that finding a job will be more complicated once they finish their studies if they are living in the UK. Just recently, some very prestigious UK universities, such as LSE, Warwick, Imperial and UCL, came to Runnymede College to give Sixth Form students an idea of what these universities are like — in terms of applications, entrances and university-life. In order to encourage more internationality in their universities, they showed us that some “issues” to do with Brexit were actually not having that much of an impact. For example, LSE presented to us the statistics which showed that 70% of graduates have full-time employment. In Warwick, 42.9% of all Academic/Research/Teaching staff have non-UK nationality. This information did not only encourage us (as Runnymedians) to want to study in these universities because of their global background, but it also proved that maybe Brexit did not pose such a threat to the internationality and diversity of universities in the UK.


I interviewed a Year 13 student about this topic and he expressed some of his concerns to do with the UK and its universities: “Obviously there are great options, but for some unis, their value isn’t really worth how much they cost now”, he said. He is still looking forward to applying to respected universities such as Edinburgh and LSE. However, a new university which has called his attention is Bocconi, in Italy, where he is most interested in studying international economics with management or finance. Undeniably, Brexit is not the only reason for the decision he has made to look into other universities outside of the UK. One of the various reasons for his appeal to Bocconi, is quite simply that he is eager to learn how to speak Italian. What better place to do this than in the manufacturing and commercial city of Milan?


When considering Brexit and the effect it has had on university applications to the UK, the statistics are clear. Fewer students from Europe apply to or aspire to study in universities in the UK after it declared it was no longer a member of the EU in 2020. Whilst I would still not completely blame all of this on the United Kingdom’s policy - the improvement of universities in the rest of Europe is also a factor - put simply, the increase in the cost of studying there is the main deterrence for European students. What is undeniable is that Brexit has made us all think twice about applying to the UK.


Image by TeroVesalainen, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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