July 28th, 2016
As the new academic year approaches with pace there has potentially never been a more uncertain time for international students embarking on their studies in the UK.
It is genuinely hard to recall a more tumultuous week for British politics since Thatcher was deposed as Prime Minister in the early 90’s and in the space of one month it’s reasonable to say that we’ve had about a year’s worth of frantic political activity. Since the EU referendum all but one of the leaders of the UK’s largest political parties has resigned and we have a new Prime Minister tasked with leading some of the most difficult negotiations of a generation.
These are indeed uncertain times for the majority of the population of the UK but no more uncertain than those of international students who, until now, retained much the same rights as domestic students. The UK provides a generous and relatively low cost student loans system for any student who comes to study from EU. This understandably attracts a large number of paying students to large universities and accounts for a large portion of their income which they re-invest in infrastructure and education facilities.
They access loans based on the UK’s membership in the bloc, which is now in post-Brexit limbo.
In the lead-up to the UK’s European Union referendum , UK university leaders were among the most adamant about remaining in the EU. A ‘Leave’ vote, many argued, could upend British higher education by treating students from EU nations the same as other international students instead of as near-equals to Brits themselves.
But in the midst of the confusion, UK universities and EU students got some reassurance. Jo Johnson, the minister of state for universities and science, told current EU students and those enrolling in the autumn that the terms of their financial aid would not change for the duration of their degree program even with the Leave campaign’s victory.
Under the EU’s “free movement” principal, students from member countries have the same access to universities in the UK as Brits themselves. They apply the same way, pay the same tuition (now some £9,000 per year), and rely on the same U.K. loan facilities, whose terms—that borrowers only have to pay back loans once they reach annual earnings of £21,000—are generous, at least compared to U.S. standards. There was a fear that if the UK exited the EU, students from other EU nations would lose those privileges and be thrust into the same pool as other international students who face higher tuition fees and don’t enjoy the same right of access to the UK’s loan program.
Of the 2.3 million students who attended UK universities across all levels in the 2014-2015 school year, 436,585, or about 19%, came from other countries—EU member states and other nations. Within that subset, 28.5%, or 124,575, were from EU states outside the UK.
It’s unlikely, overall, that student numbers will drop significantly and despite rule changes the UK remains an enormously popular student destination with some of the most prestigious universities in the world. Student accommodation issues also look set to continue with demand outstripping supply.
Private investment in to the sector should also continue to rise with student accommodation investment returning good capital appreciation and yields despite unpredictable political environments. UK and EU students should continue to flock to UK universities and demand high standards of living so in that sense EU students and investors can expect business as usual.