The government was right to revoke EU students’ home fee status



On Tuesday, the government announced that EU, EEA and Swiss students will no longer be granted home fee status and access to student loans at universities in England from 2021. While the move should not have come as any surprise, it has received great backlash online for being ‘unfair’. This is fundamentally untrue.  

It would be utterly deplorable, and borderline discriminatory, to charge EU citizens lower fees than students from the rest of the world once the Brexit transition period ends. This inequality needed to be stamped out for us to be a truly global Britain. It would have been an insult to the 342,620 students who already pay the international tuition fee, had this step not been taken. There is a common misconception that EU students comprise the second largest group enrolled at British universities, behind UK nationals. However, there are actually 143,025 EU students in Britain today. A much smaller number than 342,620. 

It is also widely believed revoking home fee status and access to UK student loans will substantially reduce the number of EU students coming to Britain. Given that it has not deterred the large number of non-EU students, it is doubtful this will become a major obstacle for EU students. As Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, argues: “history suggests that the education on offer in our universities is something people are willing to pay for”.  

Some have attributed UCAS figures, which show a 2 per cent decrease in the number of EU applicants to study at UK universities this year, to the impact of Brexit. However, the impact of COVID-19 is more likely to be the predominant contributing factor. Our universities consistently perform well in world rankings, enjoy great reputations for world-class research and UK degrees are recognised worldwide. Few countries can boast the same. Additionally, UK courses are typically shorter compared to other countries, helping to reduce overall tuition fee and accommodation costs. It would thus be unreasonable to argue Britain will not attract oversees talent. 

Critics of the government’s plan to remove access to UK student loans show ignorance to the fact this policy hadn’t been plain sailing. In 2016 it was revealed 12,134 EU students did not repay their student loans, leaving the UK government to pick up a £89 million tab. Graduates remaining in Britain have their loans automatically repaid through taxes; those moving abroad are expected to voluntarily provide details of their new address and employment to UK authorities. However, thousands fail to provide this crucial information. It is unacceptable that EU students were found to be six times more likely to default on their loans by fleeing the country than their British counterparts. More worryingly still, this admission came at a time when 10 per cent of British students were dropping out of university due to tuition costs. 

It is completely unfair for the education of EU nationals to be funded by UK taxpayers.  Other international students have been denied access to UK student loans because this responsibility should, and must, fall on an individual’s home country. Non-EU students have long made use of private student loans and academic scholarships in order to fund their studies, notably without complaint. This sense of individual responsibility appears to be regrettably lost on many EU students. 

EU nationals should not be regarded a ‘special’ class in post-Brexit Britain. EU students must be treated in the same way as all other international students and subject to the exact same rules. 

Any system to the contrary would be grossly unjust. 

Serena Lit is the YC Chair of Brentford and Isleworth Conservatives. Follow her on twitter: @serena_tara_lit