Brexit's Impact on International Education & Student Mobility

by Mary Ellen Dingley

You’ve probably already heard a lot about Brexit, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union. The British people voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU, with those voting “Leave” citing motivations of “Euroscepticism,” such as the EU taking up too much funding, being too heavy handed with regulations, and allowing too many immigrants into the UK. Many working class UK citizens took Brexit as their only hope for a better future in the face of rising rents and high poverty rates. A number of people, especially young people, were upset about the leave vote.

Flag of the European Union with one star cut out
British people voted 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the European Union.

The Pound plummeted, although it seems to have stabilized now, and the financial markets were, to put it simply, freaking out. Some people read the leave votes as the working class standing up for their rights against elites who ignored them, others read it as pure xenophobia and ignorance (here’s how the BBC broke Brexit down further).

While the media frenzy surrounding Brexit may have died down, a lot of people still have a lot of questions. We’re wondering: what does all of this mean for international students and travelers? Do you have to set aside your dreams of studying in London, tea by the Thames, or hiking in the English countryside? You’re not the only one worried; many leaders in higher education campaigned against leaving the EU, and are disappointed by the Leave result. They fear that leaving the EU will restrict the flow of talent, research, and funding for British and European universities. But a lot is going on in the UK, and we don’t yet know exactly how things will shake down. In the meantime, let’s try tackling some of the most pressing questions below:

So, what is happening now?

First of all, the UK will not leave the EU for another two years. A new prime minister has been chosen, Theresa May, and she will be the one overseeing the transition. Back in April, before Brexit, people were already upset by Theresa May, then the Home Secretary, and her policy choices for international students. May changed laws so that international students had to pay for healthcare and could not stay longer than four months after their course.

While there are many concerns, and even some EU students withdrawing their place holdings from UK universities, Brexit doesn’t seem to have impacted anything hugely as of yet. Bookings for housing from international students actually went up in July, rather than down. Still, Brexit will most likely mean that mobility between the UK and the EU will be much more limited than it is now.

What will this mean for students in the UK who want to study abroad in the EU?

Tuition fees and visa regulations should not change during these two years of exiting, with EU and UK students having full access to universities, healthcare, financial aid, programing, etc. in each other’s nations. British students studying in the EU will pay the same fees as other EU students until after the UK has legally left the EU. After that, fees are likely to go up, but that depends on what sort of economic deal the UK makes with the EU.

UK students will probably need visas to study in the EU, which might become harder to obtain. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, believes that EU universities will try to strike a deal for British students to be able to study with them without visas. Many are especially worried about UK students losing their ability to enroll in Erasmus, the well-known European study program.

Variety of Great British Pounds
The UK may be a more affordable location for international students now. 

What about EU students wanting to study in the UK?

Fernando M Galán Palomares, the president of the European Students’ Union, predicted in the Times Higher Education that tuition fees will rise for EU students in the UK, visa regulations will become more intense, and working or using healthcare as a non-UK citizen will be difficult for EU students. Until the two year process of “brexiting” is complete, EU students will likely keep paying their normal tuition fees. But after the UK exit, fees will probably go up and EU students will likely need Tier 4 visas, the same as any other international student.

Some EU students are worried about not being welcome in the UK, especially with reports of hate crimes against immigrants, but UK universities have been quick to issue welcoming statements. UK universities want European students there to add to a multicultural environment. Financially, these universities should be fine even if EU students do not attend, because of the high demand from UK students.

Will it make the UK a more affordable study abroad location?

For EU students the UK, tuition will likely become more expensive, since fees may rise and visa regulations might tighten. But with the pound dropping in relation to the dollar, for international students who already pay high fees, the UK could become a more affordable study abroad destination. This all depends on what happens with financial markets.

Open passport with visa stamps
Visas for EU students studying in the UK and UK students studying in the EU could get complicated.

Will it make it more difficult for students to take weekend trips or holiday trips from the UK to the EU?

We’re still unsure about Brexit’s travel implications, but UK citizens might eventually need visas to the EU, depending on the length of their trips. It seems like flights in Europe will go up in price with blessings of cheap flights from RyanAir and the like falling to the wayside. UK citizens traveling in the EU will eventually no longer have access to European healthcare systems or cheap mobile roaming, and will have less spending power if the Pound continues to fall. For other international students, studying in the UK and taking trips to the EU not much will change.

So much of what we know now about Brexit’s impact on study abroad is speculation. However, we do know that for the next two years, nothing will change dramatically. After that period of transition, it’s very likely there will be changes in visa and fee structures. There will still be opportunities for you to meander along country lanes and gaze up at Buckingham Palace, but stay tuned to the news to see what the future of Brexit may mean for travelers and students considering study abroad in the EU or the UK.