How has Brexit changed UK study for EU students?

16 Mar 2023  –  Written by Sarah Hunter


  • Since the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU) in 2021, the cost of university tuition fees for EU nationals in the UK has skyrocketed. 
  • Additionally, EU nationals are now required to pay a surcharge to access the national health service and visa costs on top of this.
  • Due to the soaring prices, there has been a significant decline in the number of EU citizens applying to study in the UK.
  • This will negatively affect the UK’s economy due to a fall in the amount of money brought into the country by EU students who have been largely affected by these changes and are now choosing to study elsewhere, such as The Netherlands. 


 This article aims to explore the difficulties presented to European students in the United Kingdom (UK) since its departure from the European Union (EU) in early 2021. The report will look at the intersection of issues presented to EU students and how they are deterring such citizens from undertaking study in the UK. The issues analysed in this text will be: the dramatic rise in university fees for EU nationals, the soaring costs of healthcare for non-British nationals in the UK; and the prices and levels of bureaucracy involved in obtaining a student visa as well as the inflated costs of living. 

In 2020, a matter of months before the UK was set to leave the European Union it was named as the 6th most popular country globally for the intake of international students (Educations, 2022). 

The UK was listed as the number one country in the world in terms of access to high level teaching and the third country globally for experiencing a new culture or lifestyle (Educations, 2020). Furthermore, the United Kingdom has managed to gain a reputable name for itself regarding the quality of its education system, universities and standards of living for international students. The huge intake of international students to British universities has notably been beneficial for British individuals, with international students adding billions to the UK economy each year, resulting in each person in the UK being around £390 better off (Gonclaves, 2022). The migration of students globally and specifically around Europe has therefore been financially beneficial to host countries, and notably in the United Kingdom. 

However, since the UK’s official departure from the European Union in January 2021, Britain has witnessed a substantial decline in international students choosing to study in the UK, dropping “by half since Brexit, according to new official figures’’ (EU news, 2023). This has come to fruition for a number of reasons, these being: the costs of studying and living; the restrictions on ‘free movement of persons’; the soaring costs of healthcare and the issues surrounding visa costs and applications. 


The Cost of University

 EU students prior to Brexit paid the same amount in university tuition fees as UK nationals and were able to access government loans similar to those accessed by UK students (Kreier, 2023). Therefore, in line with the EU’s pillar of ‘free movement of persons’, European nationals were able to freely travel around and cross borders to begin university study in any European Member State. 

Clearly, students were previously taking advantage of the widespread integration of European citizens and financial systems, as the number of EU students in the UK pre-Brexit was significantly higher than it is now. The statistic provided below highlights the number of EU and Non-EU students in the UK from the years 2002-2013, showing a constant increase until 2012 where there was a slight decline of around 7 thousand applicants. The current number of EU students in Britain in 2023 has declined rapidly compared to previous years, seeing the amount of applicants almost halved. 

Number of International Students in the UK, 2002-20213 (ICEF Monitor, 2014)

Home students currently pay £9,250 a year for undergraduate degrees in Britain, which was therefore also the price for EU nationals pre-Brexit. This price has increased dramatically for EU citizens since Brexit. To undertake undergraduate study in Politics and Economics at the University of Manchester costs home students, as mentioned above, £9,250 a year and now costs any international student £23,000 a year (University of Manchester, 2023). Moreover, when studying Politics, Economics and Philosophy at the university of Oxford, home students pay the same amount as they would at the university of Manchester, however international students are required to pay £35,080 (University of Oxford, 2023) per year for the same course. 

Furthermore, to undertake a yearlong master’s degree (Politics) at the University of Manchester currently costs £13,500 for home students and £26,000 for international, including EU, students (University of Manchester, 2023). 

The Times Higher Education notes that EU students are also now no longer able to apply for University government loans in the UK, including support with tuition fees or maintenance loans provided by the government to assist with the costs of living during university (Bhardwa, 2022). 

A 2021 report published by London Economics regarding the costs and benefits of international students to the UK economy, notes that “combining the direct, indirect, and induced economic benefits of the tuition fee, non-fee and visitor income associated with international students in the 2018/19 cohort, the total benefit to the UK economy associated with a typical EU domiciled student was estimated at approximately £94,000” (London Economics, 2021). The report goes on further to note that again across the academic year of 2018/2019, the new intake of students during their 3—year undergraduate studies in the UK would contribute around £6.1 billion to the UK economy. The constituency that is impacted most greatly economically from the intake of international students is Sheffield Central, with the amount on average gained per resident of Sheffield Central being around £2520 (London Economics, 2021). 

Romiti and Amuedo-Dorantes (2021) state that the individuals originating from states within Europe that have lower levels of GDP (gross domestic product) and less stable labour markets or economies appear to have presented the biggest drop in applications for UK universities. For such individuals, “the ability to stay in the United Kingdom after their studies might have been a critical pull factor” (Ibid., p. 1). It is therefore students from less affluent nations that have been affected and deterred the most from applying to study further education in Britain post Brexit, as the fees of university and added costs are unaffordable for many. 

The following statistic highlights such nations with lower levels of GDP, including but not limited to Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, and Slovenia. Individuals from these European Member States are the least likely to now move to the UK to undertake an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, due to the skyrocketing tuition fees and additional costs involved with this.

The rising costs of university tuition fees has meant that other EU member states are able to take advantage of the decline in applications faced by the UK post-Brexit. Notably one of the nations to benefit from this the most, in terms of receiving larger applicants and therefore a rise in immigration and moreover outside economic contributions, is the Netherlands.

GDP at current market prices of selected European countries in 2021 (in million euros) (Statista Research Department, 2022)

Packer (2022) has noted that a record number of students applied and were accepted to Dutch universities in 2021/2022, with 72% of these applicants coming from the European Economic Area. Furthermore, ‘the number of students originating from Romania to Dutch universities rose significantly between 2020 and 2021 – one of the countries with a weaker labour market that saw a decrease in outward mobility to the UK.’ (Packer, 2022). 

This contributes to the notion that it is individuals residing in countries with lower GDP and economic growth that have been the most deterred from studying in the UK due to the varying additional costs involved now that Britain has left the EU. As discussed in the next section of this article, the additional costs involved in studying in the UK include healthcare, visa and living costs. Moreover, the lack of financial accessibility to graduate visas to continue working in the UK post-university works to further deter individuals from less stable labour markets from studying in the UK. The Netherlands, contrasting this, have significantly lower levels of tuition fees and whilst working to uphold the EU’s free movement of persons, there are no visa costs involved during or after university studies. 

Therefore, not only has the soaring cost of university tuition fees for European nationals been one of the large deterring factors in choosing to study in Britain, but this has had a knock-on effect on the British economy also. Prior to Brexit, European students were classed as ‘home students’ in the UK and moreover paid the same price in tuition fees as British nationals would, however now in post-Brexit Britain, EU students could be faced with yearly tuition fees of up to almost £36,000. 


Other Costs (Visas and Healthcare)

 Since its departure from the EU, the UK has introduced an ‘immigration health surcharge’ for all EU nationals staying in the UK for over 6 months. This charge is compulsory even if the individual is paying for private healthcare or insurance and the price is £470 per person per year or £235 for 6 months. If a student were to then study a full undergraduate degree in the UK, they would need to pay almost £1500 to access the ‘public’ healthcare system, even more so if they were to follow this with a postgraduate degree. 

Prior to this, European nationals were able to access the national healthcare service free of charge, similarly to British citizens, and would have been able to use their European health insurance cards (EHIC) for emergency doctors or hospital visits without being registered with the NHS. The UK government website further states that ‘if you are a citizen of an EU country, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein or Switzerland, and were living lawfully in the UK on or before 31 December 2020, you will be able to use the NHS in England’ (GOV.UK 2023). 

Individuals residing in the UK that arrived before 2021 are able to apply for a settlement scheme which allows them to continue using the NHS free of charge, however EU citizens that arrived in Britain after December 2020 are now required to pay the £470 a year fee. 

PHD candidates at British universities and anyone who has applied for a graduate visa, enabling them to continue working in the UK after their studies, would need to pay a surcharge of £624 per year as opposed to the initial £470 during their undergraduate or postgraduate studies. 

A UK student visa costs between £363 and £490 which covers the student for the duration of their entire studies in Britain. A graduate visa, which enables graduates from UK universities or PHD candidates at these universities to continue living and working in Britain is set at £715. To be considered for a UK student visa, an individual would need: two recent photographs; a valid passport; an application form; a confirmation of their acceptance to study at a British university; proof of sufficient funds to support themselves during their stay in the UK (around £1000 a month, however some European students are noted as exempt from having to provide this information); an academic technology removal scheme (however again some nationalities are exempt from having to provide this); tuberculosis test results; official translations of documents not in English; and proof of parental consent for anyone under the age of 18 (Study in UK, 2023). 

Therefore, the process of applying for and securing a visa to study in the UK as an international student is lengthy, time consuming and highly costly. These extra costs married with high tuition fees have pushed European students further away from the notion of studying in Britain.

Additionally as highlighted above, many international students need to provide evidence that during their stay in the UK, they have over £1000 a month to live off for up to 9 months. Even if the students were not required to provide this information or meet this requirement to gain a UK student visa, the cost of living in Britain is extremely high currently and students migrating from nations with lower GDP’s may struggle with these costs. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) representing a mixed basket of goods of the prices of products in the UK were 10.1% higher in January 2023 compared to that of January 2022 (Francis-Devine et al., 2023). 

The CPI in the Netherlands is currently 123.22 (Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 2023), whereas in the UK it is 126.45 (Office for National Statistics, 2023). The costs of living in both countries is rather similar with the cost of an average mixed basket of goods being only slightly less expensive in the Netherlands, however international students in the Netherlands are saving tens of thousands of pounds in tuition fees, healthcare and visa costs, making it an overall more affordable experience for individuals from all European Member States. 



 Brexit has significantly changed and reduced the number of European students that have access to study within the UK, and this has occurred for multiple reasons. Firstly, deterring European nationals from studying in the UK has been the extremely heightened cost of tuition fees. This has risen exponentially from ‘home student’ fees of £9,250 a year to almost £35,000 a year at certain universities. Comparing this to studying in the Netherlands, to undertake an undergraduate degree in the European nation state costs EU nationals €2,314 per year (Study in NL, 2023) The new rates of tuition will have affected each European national regarding their decisions surrounding study, however this will have disproportionately affected individuals applying from countries with less stable labour markets and a lower GDP. 

Secondly, the introduction of healthcare fees and UK visas for European nationals will have additionally deterred many from applying to study a bachelor’s or master’s degree in Britain. There is now a health surcharge of almost £500 a year to grant access to the NHS, and this price is separate from any private healthcare fees the individual may wish to pay. Again, contrasting this with the Netherlands, each student would either need to take out private medical insurance which would be around £100 less a year to access than paying for the NHS, or European students may be able to access health services with their European health insurance cards (EHIC’s). 

Moreover, the additional costs and levels of bureaucracy involved with obtaining a visa to study in the UK has worked to further push students away from migrating to Britain to study. Students are tasked with providing an extensive list of information in order to apply for a visa and on top of this must pay a fee of somewhere between £363 and £490. The rising costs of living and price stability levels have only added to the overall fees attached with studying in the United Kingdom, which has changed dramatically for European nationals since Brexit. The UK is no longer a desirable and ‘affordable’ nation to study in for many European citizens and this has been reflected in the number of applicants dropping by half. The lack of European applicants and the barriers that feel present between Europe and the United Kingdom has moreover negatively affected the UK economy, with Britain being £6bn a year worse off due to the lack of European immigration from students. 





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Recommended citation:

Hunter, S. (2023) How has Brexit changed UK study for EU students?, IDRN, 16 March. Available at: [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].