uk student visa fee
EU students now have to apply for visas to attend UK universities as a result of Brexit, contributing to lower admissions / Source: Tolga AKMEN / AFP

The new requirement for EU students to apply for visas to pursue their education in the UK is causing the country to lose out on valuable talent. 

This is largely due to high UK student visa fees and the increased cost of tuition.

According to reports on visas from the Home Office, the number of EU students choosing to travel to the UK for their education is declining. Of these, those granted to students from Poland and Romania fell below 700 in 2021 up to October. Statistics from UCAS similarly show that there were only around 1,100 undergraduate students from the two countries enrolled in UK universities in 2021, compared to almost 6,000 in 2020. 

Previously, Polish and Romanian students made up two of the ten most popular EU countries for UK universities. Indeed, the Higher Education Statistics Agency notes that in the 2019-20 year, there were more than 8,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students from Poland and Romania. 

Visas issued to students from other eastern and central European countries were similarly limited. Only 214 were granted to students from Hungary, 185 from Bulgaria, and 177 from the Czech Republic. 

However, students from western European countries are seemingly still eager to attend UK universities. Almost 10,000 visas were approved for those from France, Germany and Spain. 

Regardless, the effects of Brexit on EU students’ willingness to consider the UK as a higher education destination are clear. Most data suggests that EU students are turning away from UK universities after the government introduced new restrictions, a result of Brexit. These include a requirement to apply for student visas, higher fees, and no access to government-backed loans. 

Such restrictions appear to already be affecting admissions to UK universities. Data from UCAS had suggested a reduction of around 70% of undergraduate applications from some eastern European countries in the 2021 admissions cycle. 


EU nationals not willing to bear the high cost of UK student visa fee

Most eastern EU students are unable to afford the high UK student visa fees / Source: Tolga Akmen / AFP

Prior to Brexit, EU students enjoyed the freedom of movement to study, work, and live across the UK. Now, however, EU students are placed under the same category as international students — and, through this, are faced with much higher costs should they wish to pursue their education there. 

Among these is a need to apply for a student visa. The UK student visa fee costs a hefty 348 pounds, with students having to pay an additional 475 pounds should they wish to extend their visa from inside the UK. 

All international students are additionally required to pay the immigration health surcharge as part of their visa application. This varies according to the length of a student’s course, but generally, most will have to pay around 470 pounds per year. 

EU students are also subject to international tuition fees which are at least two to three times higher than what is paid by UK residents. 

Stella Ziffova, a Hungarian-Slovak undergraduate student at the University of Exeter, says that this severely limits the pool of eastern European students who will be able to attend UK universities. 

“Degrees now cost around 26,000 pounds or even more for EU students and scholarships are limited to a maximum of 5,000 pounds,” she explains. “This makes it impossible for many to study in the UK, because even if they study part-time while working, their income would not cover both fees and the rent.”

Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute Nick Hillman told Times Higher Education that it “sadly suggests that you really need to be from relatively wealthy western Europe if you want to have a high chance of studying here.”

Ziffova agrees. “Many EU students, mainly from eastern European countries, will not be able to study in the UK. The percentage of those who will is small.”


EU students are preferring to study online

Reports suggest that EU students are choosing to study online rather than on-campus / Source: Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP

Despite the sharp drop in enrolment, Times Higher Education suggests that the visa statistics may not be entirely representative of all EU students in UK universities, as many may have chosen to pursue their education online. 

Jana Le, an admission specialist at Teach for Bulgaria, told Emerging Europe, “Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities in the UK have moved their lectures online, which led to many Bulgarian students returning to Bulgaria and completing their studies remotely. This allowed many to adjust back to living in Bulgaria for a prolonged period of time and see it as a viable option for continuing their education or starting their professional career.”

This is certainly a trend that can be seen globally.  Online learning has taken the world by storm since the start of the pandemic as students were forced to accommodate to virtual classes. 

Schools and universities were not the only institutions seeing this shift, though. Companies and online education providers such as Google and LinkedIn Learning saw a spike in interest in online certificate programmes as the number of users in the virtual learning sphere increased.

“Overnight you had an entire sector become significantly more validated,” Zach Sims, CEO and co-founder of Codecademy, explains to CNBC.

Perhaps the most telling reason behind the popularity of distance learning, however, is that of its affordability and flexibility. This is particularly useful to EU nationals, who are keen to study at the world’s top universities but unable to bear the cost. 

As such, education experts such as Le don’t expect to see a considerable drop in students attending British universities just yet.