EU students: Navigating a new era in UK higher education

With less than a month to the deadline for applications to the EU Settlement SchemeAnne Marie Graham, Chief Executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA), reviews the significance of Brexit for current and prospective students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland, and highlights the resources that UKCISA has created for students and their advisers to consult for advice. 

Please visit the UCL European Institute website for more information about EU students and the Settlement Scheme.


While the legal, cultural and logistical ramifications of the UK’s exit from the European Union have been discussed at length, UKCISA’s role is to help students – and those who advise them – navigate these changes. 

The impact on students

The principal change, of course, is that from 1 January 2021, EU/EEA nationals now need a visa to study in the UK. The type of visa varies depending on the length or type of course, but regardless prospective students from the EU and EEA now require advice and guidance on immigration in the same way as other international students.

As a result, there have also been significant changes in EU/EEA/Swiss nationals’ access to financial support, including loans, and tuition fee levels. Fee assessment and eligibility is complex – but UKCISA has developed comprehensive guidance on the regulations published in England and Scotland, with guidance for Wales and Northern Ireland to follow. 

For those EU, non-EU EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK before the end of the transition period, and their eligible family members, there is also the option to protect their residence in the UK after the transition period has ended – through the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS), which closes on 30 June 2021. 

Support for students and staff

In this complex, and fast-moving environment, UKCISA has prioritised providing timely and accessible information, advice and guidance. 

We have sought to raise awareness of the impending EUSS deadline, and developed comprehensive information and guidance on the application process, including blogs by students who have experienced it first-hand. Students can also access confidential advice about their immigration status or applications via our telephone advice line

We have also delivered a number of online webinars on the EUSS for staff advising students, as well as information on the UK immigration routes for school counsellors across Europe, and we will be delivering online training on the guidance for fee assessments for staff in UKCISA member institutions over the coming months.

Advocating for policy change

In parallel with our comprehensive advice and training programme, we have advocated for a range of policy priorities in support of EU, EEA and Swiss nationals.

Our policy roadmap, Delivering a World-Class Student Experience, outlined 15 key asks of government to create the conditions for international student success in July 2020. 

The need to extend and enhance the flexibility of the visa and immigration system to respond to the pandemic was naturally our priority at the time. However, alongside this, we remain focused on ensuring that the implementation of new immigration rules for EU/EEA/Swiss students from 1 January is kept under review, to ensure we are delivering a transparent and welcoming ‘customer journey’ for students. 

With the new unsponsored Graduate Immigration Route to launch on 1 July 2021, we are also focused on supporting the higher education sector to respond to the demand for careers and employability support for the international labour market, and develop a stronger evidence base on international graduate outcomes. 

And while the creation by the UK Government of a new Turing scheme to support UK outward student mobility is to be welcomed, for UKCISA the UK’s decision not to participate in the Erasmus+ programme is a sad loss – which closes down an important route through which EU students experienced a UK education. 

Looking to the future 

Despite the turbulence of recent years, UK education remains committed to welcoming students from Europe, across all levels of study. The refreshed International Education Strategy is committed to enhancing the international student experience, and supporting the continued flow of students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland. UKCISA’s WeAreInternational Student Ambassadors are active on social media to highlight these messages of support and welcome to current and prospective students.   

The pandemic may mean that we have not seen the full impact of Brexit on EU/EEA/Swiss nationals coming to the UK to study or to work. But UKCISA stands ready to support UK education providers, and the international students that they welcome, to navigate whatever is yet to come.


Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash


NoteThe views expressed in this post are those of the author, and not of the UCL European Institute, nor of UCL.

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