Today an historic agreement was reached to enable the UK to move to the second phase of its talks on leaving the European Union. The internal consistency of the agreement is debatable so there will inevitably be huge recriminations from all sides in the coming months about what it all means. However, it is satisfying to see Jean- Claude Juncker say that: “We have made sure that their rights will remain the same after the UK has left the European Union. This is in particular the case for: EU citizens’ right to live, work and study.”
How does this affect British students in Europe or thinking about going there? Well, on the one hand it does provide some clarity: UK Students will still be allowed to study elsewhere in Europe. However, there was never really any doubt that this would be the case. It does also guarantee equal treatment in terms of access to healthcare, social benefits and education.
The biggest issue is whether or not EU and UK citizens will still be considered exactly the same in 28 countries or whether they should be treated reciprocally. At the moment, EU citizens studying in the UK pay the same fees as UK students and are able to access finance for their tuition fees (there is no right to living cost support unless students meet a residency requirement). It is possible that EU students might be asked to pay full international fees in the future and have their access to finance removed. If this does happen, then equal treatment for British students in other EU member states would be achieved by increasing the fees paid by British students in any member that has variable fees for international students.
I doubt that increasing fees in the way I have outlined above is the intention of either side in the Brexit negotiations. However, such an understanding does not take into consideration the fact that the UK (or England at least) has already “left” the EU in the way that students are expected to fund their education.
The removal of direct subsidies for nearly all Bachelors students in England has not been emulated in any other EU member state. Those countries that do levy fees for their domestic students do so on the basis that it is a contribution towards the cost of education rather than a price tag that supposedly reflects the full cost of their studies. In recent years, British students have been able to benefit from tuition fee subsidies in other EU member states and in many cases, this has meant that they have not paid fees at all. The Danish and Dutch governments, in particular, have been very clear that British students are welcome, particularly if they stay on to work after they graduate. This subsidy has not been reciprocated by the English government. Wouldn’t true equality require that this be removed elsewhere in the EU in future? Under EU law that would not be possible while the UK remains a member state but who knows what lies around the next corner?
I am quietly confident that British students will be able to continue going to European universities with nothing to worry about. However, I know better than to say this will definitely be the case. Let’s see where we are in Update #4…