The forthcoming EU referendum has forced us to focus our minds on the financial realities that British students might face in the not so distant future. While some of the best benefits for British students might disappear if we no longer enjoy the same rights as natives in 27 other countries, there will be some universities where the financial reality is altered very little whether we remain or leave.
Many private universities offer some form of financial aid to their international students. While there might be some differences in the amounts available, and the reasoning behind the awards, if we stay in or vote to leave, financial support of some kind or other ought to be available to any student who meets the relevant criteria.
Scholarships are largely used by universities to attract the best possible talent. It therefore stands to reason that most will be offered only to those students who are high achievers. Within Europe, there is little in the way of scholarships for gifted athletes or global citizens, for example.
Some universities will take a student’s personal circumstances into consideration when setting fees but this may change should we leave the European Union. Public and private universities often offer means-tested support to their domestic students but we are not aware of any who extend this principle when they are not obliged to by EU law.
Where to look for scholarships and where not?
Private universities in Europe are the only ones likely to offer scholarships. Given the relatively low, or non-existent, tuition fees charged by public universities in most members of the European Union, there is little or no money available for scholarships for British students at such institutions. Again, this may change if we leave the EU as fees will almost certainly increase for British students. However, in some countries, this won’t make much of a difference as all students from all countries are charged the same amount.
It is worth pointing out that British students at European public universities are unlikely to get a scholarship for another very important reason; their education is already heavily subsidised. It is not possible for a Dutch university to teach anyone for the €1,984 per year they will charge EU students in 2016. Their government makes a contribution to the education of every EU national. This varies by subject but is usually at least €8,000 per student.
Another factor to consider is that not all scholarships are awarded for the entire length of a degree or, if they are, they may be provided at variable rates. This will typically incentivise the first or final year of study at a greater rate than others. Almost all scholarships will come with a performance-related target that students will need to meet in order to continue to benefit. This will most often be expressed in the form of a required grade point average (GPA).
It is also common to find that scholarships may only be available for certain degree programmes and not for every course. For example, scholarships for professional degrees are never awarded, even at universities that might make these available for degrees in other disciplines. It may not be palatable to say this but such students are cash cows in the eyes of their universities; universities offering courses in these subjects in English are doing so largely as a means of generating revenue and British students are, by global standards, wealthy. Also, with the anticipated earning potential of graduates in professional degrees being so much higher than for students in other subjects, many universities feel that it is not necessary to subsidise their education. Students of medicine and dentistry abroad can access financial support only when it is available to all EU nationals by right. This can take the form of student loans in Bulgaria, means-tested fees in Italy but, more often than not, means that no financial assistance at all will be available. Of course, if we leave the EU even these limited options could dry up.
What impact will scholarships have on how much British students pay?
While financial aid at European universities can have a noticeable impact on the overall cost of higher education it does not automatically make it cheaper than studying in England. In the following table we have tried to give an indication of the likely annual cost of a degree at seven European universities.
We have converted the final costs in GB£ on an annual basis assuming a 10-month academic year. This does not take into account the fact that some of the degrees take four years to complete rather than three.
Given that the anticipated cost of a year at an English university for many British students is now around £21,000 according to the National Union of Students, at first glance many of these opportunities represent excellent value for money. Of course, it is vitally important to remember that Student Finance England support is not available for either tuition fees or living costs. Students will have to find the remaining cost of their education from alternative sources.
In the following table, we have tried to indicate merit-based or need-based financial aid opportunities but there are certain examples which combine an element of both. Further research will obviously be required but we believe that British students of a suitable ability are likely to find some excellent opportunities at the universities mentioned. For further information on the degree programmes that these universities offer in English please visit www.astarfuture.co.uk.
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