I was in the Netherlands last week visiting a variety of universities throughout the country. While it was hugely encouraging to see that most universities have increased their number of British enrollments this year, there were certainly signs that one or two had dropped out, citing Brexit as a major concern.
When we are trying to advise students of the impact of Brexit on tuition fees, I think we are more or less clear for every country except the Netherlands. This is the main country where British students benefit from direct subsidy in their host country. We have asked many universities what measures they can put in place to reassure British students in the event that the vote to leave the European Union is actually implemented. While it still isn’t possible for anyone to say what will happen (and expect this state of affairs to continue at least until Article 50 is implemented), I think we can now have a good stab at outlining what will not happen. We can also perhaps point to the worst-case scenario, which from an English point of view may not look so bad after all.
Will students who started university this year be guaranteed EU fees for the duration of their studies on the basis that they have started before any change has been announced? No. Universities have taken legal advice on this and it cannot be done as it would result in discrimination against other non-EU students. Also, universities would be foregoing revenue from central government if it were even legal to do this. Hence, there is absolutely no chance of this happening without the Dutch Ministry of Education taking the lead. There is no suggestion that this will happen. Some in the UK have imagined this might be a possibility because British universities have said they will honour this commitment to their existing EU students (and, more importantly perhaps, the Student Loan Company has said it will do so, too). British universities enjoy greater autonomy when setting fees and, with the exception of STEM subjects, don’t receive direct government subsidy since the introduction of £9,000 fees. For these reasons, this is not a like-for-like comparison.
Could universities decide to charge British students a lower amount than full, non-EU fees? This falls into the same discriminatory problem as the previous scenario. Effectively, this would amount to a blanket scholarship for British students on the grounds that they are British. This isn’t legal and couldn’t be achieved. British students could be able to apply for scholarships offered to non-EU students but they would have no automatic right to them.
Will British students still be able to access tuition fee loans or maintenance loans if we leave the EU? No. This would also end overnight.
To maintain the same fees and access to student finance in the Netherlands would require the UK’s continuing membership of the EU, joining the EEA, or negotiating a separate agreement that would allow for reciprocity. All of these would probably require the maintenance of freedom of movement. As a result, I am not holding my breath.
So, if we are to leave, what would this mean for British students?
Well, the good news is that Dutch tuition fees for international students are not that high anyway. You would be looking at around €8,000 per year for arts and humanities courses, around €12,000 for sciences. The University Colleges would be around €10,000 a year. All of these are comparable with English tuition fees which will resume their own upward journey from September 2017. We have never encouraged students to go to The Netherlands for primarily financial reasons; it has only ever been a nice additional bonus. However, we can accept that this might make it difficult for some British students to afford.
The other major change would affect the rights of British students to live and work in the Netherlands. While there is already talk of making British citizens pay to visit the rest of the EU, we don’t know if this will have an impact on students. We can’t say for certain what the impact would be on British students’ right to work, either. However, the standard allowance for non-EU international students is 10 hours a week, meaning that the maximum earning potential could be seriously restricted.
We will obviously aim to update this information as we know more.