Comments by Sanwar Ali:
The small increase in non-EU students is good news for universities. Many people including universities were quite pessimistic about the situation and thought that some universities possibly faced financial disaster. It is not all good news. Not surprisingly after EU students start having to pay full tuition fees next year, their numbers are expected to fall.
It remains to be seen long term how the coronavirus COVID-19 situation will affect university finances. The reduction in EU numbers will also affect university funding.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a rise in the number of UK Tier 4 student visas issued to non-EU international students. Meanwhile, international student numbers from EU countries have plummeted. According to recent statistics, there has been a 2% rise in non-EU student numbers, while EU student arrivals has slumped by 13.2%
Enrollment figures show that a total of 35,080 non-EU international students have been accepted by UK universities for the 2020 – 21 academic year, up from 33,630 in 2019. EU student enrollments have dropped to 22,940, down from 26,440 in 2019.
However, Erudera College News reports that the slump in EU student numbers can be attributed to exam delays in European countries as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the report, because of the delays, the current figures are not final.
Awaiting qualifications to finalise figures
It’s understood that figures will be finalised once students submit their qualifications and places at UK universities are confirmed. It’s expected that EU student numbers will continue to decline in the coming years, especially at the start of the 2021 – 22 academic year when EU students will have to pay full tuition fees to study at UK universities.
Earlier this year, Michelle Donelan, the British Minister of State for Universities announced that for the 2021 – 22 academic year, EU students will no longer qualify for home fee status in the UK.
Ms Donelan said: “EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals will no longer be eligible for home fee status, undergraduate, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support from Student Finance England for courses starting in the academic year 2021/22. This change will also apply to Further Education funding for those aged 19+, and funding for apprenticeships.”
Brexit won’t affect 2020 – 21 academic year
Donelan was quick to reassure EU international students, in the UK for the 2020 – 21 academic year, that they will not be impacted by completion of the Brexit transitional period on 31 December 2020.
She added that EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who benefit from Citizens’ Rights under the EU Withdrawal Agreement, EEA EFTA Separation Agreement or Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement will also remain unaffected.
Irish nationals living in the UK or Ireland who have access to benefits under the Common Travel Area arrangement will also remain unaffected.
Universities prepared for coronavirus COVID-19
Director of Universities UK International, Vivienne Stern, said: “Plans on how to cater for overseas students had been developed since the pandemic first arrived in the UK. We had students on campus during the first lockdown and our universities never closed - there were always students on campus and international students, in particular, still living in halls.”
“Universities became very good at making sure things like access to food if you can’t go out to shop because you’re isolating, access to healthcare if you fall ill and all of the arrangements are in place so that people don’t have to travel long distances,” Stern added.
The unexpected rise in non-EU student numbers on Tier 4 visas has been driven, in part, by an increased effort by UK higher education institutions to recruit from overseas. However, stringent border controls in the USA, Australia and New Zealand have made these popular student destinations less attractive for the time being, allowing the UK to capitalise.
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