The Brexit Effect on the UK Universities


The current highlights among the UK universities on the number of International students left many to wonder where are the EU students going beyond the UK and also raised questions around the vigorousness of the Brexit effect.


To start with, let’s have a quick glimpse of what exactly is “Brexit”. Going into a small flashback shows that, the word Brexit was formed as a nickname for “British Exit” when Britain decided to leave the European Union. One of the main anticipated effects of Brexit was the sharp drop in the applications of EU students in the universities across the UK. On the other hand, the universities across the other areas in Europe are having a sudden peak in their demand. This brings towards the main question of whether this sudden popularity or rising demand is really due to the “Brexit effect” or are there any underlying factors that are yet to be uncovered. Following that, it was also important to keep an eye on where the European students have chosen or are choosing to study instead of the UK.



UK universities have seen a 40% reduction in the number of applications received from EU students in 2021 compared to the previous year. This was evident from the statistics presented by UCAS.

In accordance with that, Ludovic Highman who is the Associate Professor in the higher education management at the University of Bath highlighted that the biggest drop in EU students was from the Eastern European countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, and Lithuania. In other words, research supports that the majority of the applicants who dropped their application from the UK are originating from countries with weaker labour markets and economies.

In regard to this, a few research were conducted to identify the factors that the students who studied in the UK during the Pre-Brexit had considered when looking for their study destination. These factors can be used as a clue to analyze the choices the students are heading towards.

It was evident that the cost of living and the fee comes out the most important factors that are considered by the students. In addition to that, David Crosier who is the Higher Education Analyst at Eurydice highlights that students who might have chosen the UK as their study destination but had to search for an alternative location other than the UK most probably might go for countries which has a strong offer of programs taught in English.

However, the quality of the overall student experience and the geographical situation too were found to be important. In other words, the students do consider the attractiveness of the study destination in terms of the culture and the facilities.

Therefore, it was impossible to precisely know the reason behind their choices as we don’t know what exactly is the student’s individual intentions are or would have been. Hence, trying to know where the students who may have studied in the UK Pre-Brexit, might choose to study instead is complicated.

However, based on statistics, observations, and further research done by some major people in the educational industry, few countries were identified as being the top alternatives to studying in the UK. A survey conducted by Nuffic (Dutch government body for internationalization in education), to predict the study locations that EU students might consider, found that only 10 respondents out of the 526 prospective international students from EEA (European Economic Area) countries selected the UK as their potential European destination for studies. Among the 10 respondents, 8 of them were more likely to choose the Netherlands due to Brexit.

The fact that the Netherlands was considered one of the potential study destinations was evident when Nuffic portrayed that 72% of the students enrolled at Dutch universities in the 21/22 academic year were from countries in the European Economic Area (EEA) which includes all EU countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, but does not include the UK.

Furthermore, the growth in the number of international students in German universities was very significant. The country has been receiving international applicants from European countries like France and Italy. Similarly, Ireland universities also saw an increase in their EU students by 34% which is considered to be a significant achievement.

40% Reduction in the number of applications received from EU students in 2021 compared to the previous year. source- UCAS

It was found out that, international students are considering Irish universities to be a high-quality destination that can provide the luxury of getting benefited by the terms and conditions regarding fees and other expenses similar to the Irish students. In addition to that, statistics from the Canadian Government found an 80% increase in the number of international students, thus making Canada another alternative study destination the students potentially might choose instead of the UK.

In relation to the main factors, Ludovic Highman further pointed out that the affordability and the post-graduation employment options are some of the important factors that International students coming from weaker economies consider when selecting a destination for their study.

However, it is a well-known fact that after Brexit, the EU students no longer had the privilege to enjoy the home fee status or to access any sort of tuition fee loans, thus making them obliged to pay the international tuition fee. Furthermore, they are no longer entitled to UK’s student finance system and the automatic rights to work which made education in the UK expensive for the European students and brought uncertainties around the post-graduation employment opportunities.



Moreover, the analysis from ApplyBoard presents that Brexit was one of the main reasons behind the rise in the numbers of European international students. Therefore, it can be said that students who previously benefited from the reduced tuition fees at UK institutes but had to lose that opportunity due to Brexit are more likely to go in search of other European countries to continuously gain those benefits.

For example: in the Netherlands, the number of students originating from Romania which is one of the countries with a weaker labour market, rose significantly between the years 2020 and 2021.

Further looking into the alternative choices that an international student chooses as their study destination instead of the UK, let’s think it again, was the reduction of demand in the UK and high demand in the universities across other European countries caused only by the Brexit effect? If we look at the alternative study locations the EU student might consider instead of the UK, it can be seen that most of those countries were already showing significant growth in their number of international students. Therefore, it became harder to assume whether the other European universities are having high demand because of Brexit or simply due to their own long-term growth. If we take Germany as an example, we saw that there was an increase in the EU international students but it cannot be guaranteed that this happened just because of Brexit. Therefore, the vigorousness of the Brexit effect on the UK and the other EU countries cannot be specified.

As a result, it can be concluded that Brexit is obviously one of the factors amongst many, but it cannot be the only reason behind the reduction of demand in the UK and high demand in the universities across other European countries.



The UK higher education sector started to focus more on targeting the other corner of the world to keep up with the decreasing number of international students from the EU. They started focusing on attracting students from Malaysia, China, and UAE. In regard to this, Highman said that the redirection of the focus towards the countries out of the EU might have an impact on the student experience as there will be a reduction of diversity compared to how it was before.

On the other hand, some of the universities across Europe such as the universities in the Netherlands are a bit concerned about the rapid increase in the inflow of international applicants as it can impact the ability to maintain the quality of education and the workload. Therefore, some actions like the introduction of CAPs on the number of applicants, reduction in the number of courses taught in English, and moving the international students away from the main cities are taken to limit the inflow of international students.

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Get updates and learn from the best

More To Explore