‘Brexit’: not only about businesses, but also about students

As David Cameron got re-elected last month, he had no choice but to give in to pressure from UKIP: in 2017, or maybe even earlier, the British population will vote on the membership of Britain in the EU. In case of a ‘Brexit’, this referendum would have major consequences; not only for businesses, farmers and travellers, but also for students. If Britain backs out of the European Union, many study abroad benefits will be lost; for British students as well as those from other EU countries. Following is an overview of how lucky we are exactly – and what a huge setback a ‘Brexit‘ would be for ambitious students who want to broaden their horizon.

EU students studying in the UK – the luring appeal of ‘Oxbridge’

The United Kingdom offers many top-notch universities. The THE World University Rankings put the University of Oxford in 3rd place, Cambridge in 5th and Imperial College London in 9th. In contrast, the first non-UK EU universities on this list are the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (13th) and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (19th). This makes the United Kingdom a popular destination for international students; in 2013/2014, 125,300 EU students were studying in the UK.

Many students are profiting from Article 18 of the TFEU, which says that all member states are prohibited to discriminate on the basis of nationality within the EU. This means that any EU student pays the same tuition fees as the resident students of this country. This may seem obvious, but it actually isn’t: right now, UK and EU students pay £9,000 for one year of studying in Oxford or Cambridge; for non-EU students, this could be up to £30,000/year! Therefore, the tuition fees of EU students studying in the UK could increase significantly if the British universities are no longer bound by this non-discriminatory clause.

Other than this, chances are that the UK will also withdraw from the Schengen Treaty, which allows free movement of people and goods within the EU. In practice, this means that after a ‘Brexit’ students would have to get a ‘Tier 4 student visa’ in order to be able to study in the UK. Besides the £322 visa itself, you will also have to pay a ‘healthcare surcharge’, which, currently, for a US national is £525. There are also several eligibility requirements, such as sufficient knowledge of the English language and a guaranteed certificate of enrolment – plus,  students hvs to prove that they are able to sustain themselves and pay for their university and their stay. Free movement of people makes for a great opportunity, and taking this away is costly for students and makes for a lot of red tape.

UK students going to a EU country – cheap and fun

But not only do EU students enjoy the UK; ‘the continent’ is also a promising world of different cultures and a vibrant student life for English students. In 2013/2014, 10,414 UK students were studying in continental Europe. One of the most appealing aspects is the significantly lower tuition fees of most universities. In the Netherlands, most programmes cost around £1,500/year, and in Denmark and Sweden it costs absolutely nothing. This provides a great opportunity for the less wealthy students or those who do not want to be carrying the burden of staggering student loans. However, the same rule applies as for the UK tuition fees; without the non-discriminatory clause, English students will likely pay the same fees as non-EU/EEA residents, which usually lies at around €10,000. This rise in tuition fees will increase the burden on UK students to study abroad and the number of outgoing students will decline. At the same time, they will also have to acquire a visa from the country they want to study in, leading to the same complications that EU students run into when applying to study in the UK in a post-EU Britain.

Even larger benefits are derived from the Erasmus programme, which allows EU students to study abroad within the EU. UK students profit from this budget as well, with 14,651 English participants in 2012/2013. This programme as a whole would be taken away.

Why does this matter?

From the look of it, for students the most important impact will be in the study abroad-section. However, this is very important, since an increasing number of students study abroad for a certain period of time and the benefits of this are huge. Study abroad students are twice as likely to land a job within 12 months, their starting salaries are 25% higher (on average), 80% of study abroad students reported that they felt they were better able to adapt to different work environments, and 59% of employers said having studied abroad would be a valuable asset for an individual in their later career within an organization. These are all reasons why studying abroad should be encouraged, and one of the major sponsors in this field is the EU. Losing this support would mean decreasing chances for students to go abroad.

For EU students, this is a shame; but after all, they could still go to Paris, Berlin, Rome or Warsaw. UK students, however, would struggle with the increased difficulty of organizing this experience in all European countries. Thus, the home students would be disadvantaged most. There is only one thing to do: English students, vote pro-Europe!


Louise Bicknese, *1996, is a first-year student at University College Maastricht with a dream to become a journalist and a special interest in the European Union.


Image by Kosala Bandara.


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