Brexit and student fees: Let equality rule

Uproar and indignation is the response of many student organisations and their supporters at the potential change in fees for EU and non-EU foreign students after Brexit. But this is about equality. Why should Indians or Nigerians pay more than Germans or Czechs?

Brexit at the LSE
Joel Casement
On 17 May 2019 11:04

Recent news stories have popularized the British Government’s plans allegedly to increase the tuition fees for European Union students coming to study at United Kingdom universities.

However, the issue has been oversimplified and spun in the media, to the point of rumour appearing to become fact. A closer look reveals how this is purely speculation, and that the core of it is or should be the issue of equality: After Brexit, EU students must not hold an unfair advantage by paying reduced fees at the expense of international students. All foreign students should be given the same opportunities.

Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary, is, quite rightly, proposing to end the preferential status enjoyed by EU students for courses starting in 2021-22, by which time Britain is scheduled to have left the EU. This rebalances the inequality currently experienced by international students who pay considerably more than their EU Member State counterparts.

International students pay around £20,000 pa (sometimes more) to go to universities in the UK. This is on average double what UK and EU counterparts pay - up to approximately £9,250 pa – both on the degree courses and the university.

The differential in fees between EU and other international students at the moment is only because EU students are born in an EU Member State, and is not based on academic merit or any ‘added value’ they bring to their academic institution.

EU students clearly receive the same courses, tuition and facilities as international students, so after Brexit, there is no reason why international students should be charged considerably more. All overseas student fees should be similar, thus encouraging the flow of knowledge and ideas from around the world.

Grotesque inequality in fees paid by foreign students cannot continue after Brexit. Why should Indians or Nigerians pay more than Germans or Czechs? A Global Britain must be open to the whole world, and by disadvantaging international students from studying in the UK, we cannot become truly global.

The Government intends to remove the upper cap on the fees EU students pay, equating them with the fee levels of international students.  Fees will not be raised. It is the independent decision of each UK university to determine what they will charge both EU and international students. If fees rise, then this will be the choice of the university. It is grossly unfair for EU students to pay considerably less for the same education and facilities than their international counterparts after Brexit.

In response to the UK Government’s proposal, Guy Verhofstadt has said “the EU will never accept” a move by Theresa May to raise tuition fees for EU students after Brexit. This is a veiled threat by the EU to increase student fees for British students studying in the EU. Going forward, it should be the choice of British universities whether or not they wish to raise fees for EU students, just as it should be for EU universities and British students. However, with Verhofstadt insinuating the EU could impose fee rises - right across all EU countries as a direct EU policy – this would give them no choice.

Tuition fees are the latest EU battle ground where MEPs - such as Verhofstadt - are attempting to use this kind of issue as false leverage to argue against the EU signing a Free Trade Deal with the UK. This is simply the petty action of European Federalists who do not accept the democratic decision of the UK’s citizens to Leave the EU. The benefits of education are common to all nations, and the EU must not escalate this situation into a proxy trade war of ‘trading people’ via university students.

Guy Verhofstadt does not want the UK to Leave the EU. He has repeatedly pleaded for “nothing to change”. But this must not be the case. Things must change for the better.

One thing which will not change is the global attraction of the UK’s universities. Removing the cap on fees for EU students will release places and make UK universities more accessible for students from all around the world, along with fair competition for the available places. Students with higher academic potential will have the opportunity to gain places and further raise the standards in our universities.

The United Kingdom and the United States are home to the very best universities in the world, such as, among others - Oxford, Cambridge, and St Andrews in the UK and Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia in the US.

Given the choice, UK students might choose to study in the USA, rather than the EU, and the attraction of the UK’s top universities to US students has been clear for decades. Creating equality for all foreign students will open up UK universities to more competition and more students from the US. This will improve transatlantic educational links and the exchange of students and ideas, proving to be advantageous for students, universities and for both national economies.

The UK will always strive to attract the best and brightest minds from around the world. Equating fees for EU students to the level of all international students will be much fairer after Brexit.

The UK must move forward as a global nation as we Get Britain Out of the EU. Giving equal opportunities to all foreign students will only increase the international reach of our universities and create a more level playing field for all non-UK students.

Joel Casement is a Research Executive at cross-party, grassroots Eurosceptic group Get Britain Out

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