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‘Devastating’: EU student numbers in UK drop by half since Brexit

The number of EU students choosing to study in the UK has halved since Brexit, according to new official figures.

Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows that the enrollment of EU citizens has fallen by 53%, from 64,120 students in 2020/21 to just 31,400 in 2021/22.

While the number of non-EU citizens did increase over the same period, British universities still faced a significant student shortage overall.

HESA said the reduction in the number of EU scientists was “consistent” with the UK’s exit from the bloc and a change in international policy on fees.

Before Brexit, EU students paid just over £9,000 (€10,255) to live in England and Wales and could qualify for student funding. Fees rose to £38,000 (€43,300) after the UK left the bloc.

Concerns about new Brexit visa rules are also having an impact, with a particularly sharp decline in student numbers from Italy, Germany and France.

The decline in student numbers has reduced classroom diversity and weakened the finances of universities that rely on EU students enrolled in three- or four-year courses, according to Universities UK.

Similar falls were seen in Scotland, which voted to remain in the European Union in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Scottish National Party spokesperson for education Carol Monaghan The MP said: “It is devastating that Brexit is depriving Scotland of the opportunity to attract the best and brightest young talent Europe has to offer.

“The only way Scotland can re-establish our ties with our European neighbors is through independence,” the Glasgow-based politician said.

Monaghan also emphasized the impact on the Scottish students themselves.

“Brexit has been a disaster for young people across Scotland as their opportunities to work, travel and study in Europe have been severely curtailed by the end of the free movement of people.

“The EU’s Erasmus program has provided fantastic opportunities for our young people to learn and explore Europe, and the UK’s alternative Turing scheme is a pale imitation of Erasmus.”

While enrollment in the EU declined in 2021/22, first-year enrollment outside the EU rose by 32%.

Most of these new international students came for one-year postgraduate courses.

The number of Chinese students rose from 107,000 in 2017-2018 to 151,000 last year.

UK universities said the increase in non-EU students did not offset the exodus of EU students at the undergraduate level, hurting the finances of some universities and impoverishing campus life.

The findings show “very clearly the impact of a kind of loss of freedom of movement and a change in the status of European students’ tuition fees, and, most importantly for students, loss of access to student loans,” said Charlie Robinson, head of global mobility policy at UK universities.

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