After the shock announcement on the 24th June 2016 that Great Britain will leave the EU – as the result of a very close referendum vote – many of us are left wondering what will be the impact on postgraduate students from other parts of the EU. Most official responses have erred to the side of caution, explaining that the process will be long and complex, without giving any clear indications as to whether funding cuts will take place in education or not. Although it may seem frustrating, this vague answer is also understandable. Brexit will be a lengthy operation and no action is scheduled to take place for the foreseeable future. That means no one can yet predict what laws will be passed regarding EU student tuition fees and funding, when the UK is fully autonomous.
A State Of Uncertainty
The uncertainty has left universities across Great Britain and the 125,000 non-UK European students who are currently studying here, in a confused situation. But the good news is that the 2016 September/October intake of masters degree students will definitely not be affected by Brexit, whether they are entering the UK from abroad to study, or they are a domestic student. This was confirmed by the Minister of State for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson on the 27th June 2016, after the Student Loans Company revealed that it had been contacted by many students from the EU and the UK, who were concerned about funding.
UK University Statements
In a statement released via his Twitter account, Mr Johnson explained that: “Current students and this autumn's applicants will continue to receive student finance for duration of their course”, adding that the ”UK welcomes EU students”.
In the days that followed the referendum, the Minister’s sentiments were echoed by many university vice chancellors, keen to reassure their next student intake. At the University of Warwick, VC Stuart Croft wrote a long blog post on the topic, including a message about funding, he said: “Regarding fees, we have said confidently that those already registered will not be affected by any fee changes...”
Similarly, the vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz was keen to address his students concerns, stating that ”the University can confirm that undergraduate EU students who are already studying at Cambridge, who have an offer to study at Cambridge, or who apply in 2016 to start their studies in 2017, will continue to be charged the UK fee rate applicable at the time...” He added that the university would do all it could to guide and support students from all over the world as this university was an “international community” and would remain so.
This was also the case at the University of Dundee, where VP Professor Sir Pete Downes moved to reassure students, including those who are planning on taking their masters degree from this September. He reminded them that: “Given the complexity of exit negotiations from the EU it is extremely unlikely that the current process and funding arrangements for students will change significantly in the short term.” Pertinently, he also brought into question the importance of early applications for next year, explaining: “We are therefore encouraging those who are considering applying for 2017 entry onwards to do so in the usual way.”
Apply Sooner Rather Than Later
It seems to be a good idea to apply sooner rather than later to avoid postgraduate fee increases. With an uncertain future ahead for both faculties that welcome applications from other countries in Europe, overseas students themselves, and their UK counterparts, it makes sense to apply now and begin a masters degree whilst the UK is still part of the EU.
So far Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has not been invoked, when it is, the official withdrawal of the UK from the EU will begin, as will a deeper level of insecurity about funding for postgraduate courses. However, from the date it is invoked the UK will have a further two years to complete the negotiations for its departure. This means that if you are keen to study in the UK at postgraduate level, but will not be able to arrange a course for this September, don’t panic. Applying sooner is certainly better than later, but it looks extremely likely that fees for EU students won’t be rising prohibitively for the next two years at least.