For the first time, the number of European students in the UK is falling, and English universities are set to become increasingly British. The Brexit - and the consequent doubling of tuition fees - is to blame for the drop in European students, but also the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to data released by Ucas (UK Universities and Colleges Admissions Service), the number of students arriving from the Old Continent has fallen by 59% from 27,510 last year to just 11,390, less than half. Moreover, among the new entrants, the British would be 89%, 3% more than last year. This would be the first increase since 2000, when British universities started to become an international benchmark for young people.
According to DataHE - a company that collects data in the university sector - the number of European students has dropped more than ever before. This decrease mainly concerns Poland and Bulgaria, where the recruitment of students has been 80% lower than before. This is not surprising since, due to Brexit, the courses that have just started this autumn will cost European students twice as much as the amount charged to the British. In this sense, the most serious consequences are suffered in Scotland, where until last year European students paid nothing and from this year, instead, they will have to pay fees at the highest level. For this reason, this year Scottish students will occupy 74% of the available places, compared to 71% last year.
This does not seem to have serious economic consequences, as there will be more room for non-European students to invest more in English education. The most serious consequences, however, are for the richness of the university environment in the UK, which has always benefited from the diverse culture of its students and reached very high levels in research.
But how does it work for those who decide to study in the UK anyway?
European students who are currently studying in the UK or who began their studies before July 2021 will pay the same fees and have the same financial facilities as UK students for the duration of their course of study. From August 2021, however, students travelling to the UK to study will need to apply for a visa; language courses lasting less than 6 months are exempt from this requirement.
The British government has also decided to abandon the Erasmus project and launch an international exchange programme called Alan Turing - a name derived from the British mathematician who, during the Second World War, invented a machine capable of decoding the codes of the Nazis' Enigma Machine. The Erasmus projects that had already been launched will continue for their full duration.
Consequences for the world of work as well
The Brexit has not only had a negative impact on university enrolment: the world of work is also affected by leaving the EU. The hospitality sector is the most affected, as minimum wages and flexible contracts discourage British people from taking up jobs. Before the pandemic, 85% of chefs were immigrants and 50% of the hospitality workforce was European. Because of Covid-19, many of these workers - in particular chefs, waiters, bartenders, bricklayers and farm workers - have returned to their countries. Most of them will no longer return to the island, not by their own choice, but because entry at the border - even for Europeans - is now regulated by a strict points system similar to the Australian model. To pass through customs, you need a visa, a work contract and money to prove you can support yourself.
The issue is very much on the minds of the trade unions, who are urging Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to solve the problem of minimum wages and flexible "zero hours" contracts (only the hours actually worked are paid), a problem that discourages British people from taking up jobs in the hospitality industry.
But this is not the only sector to find itself in an alarming situation: in the agricultural sector there is a shortage of around 30,000 labourers, while the construction sector has seen the exodus of 42% of Europeans and has only 4% of British workers, many of whom are already of retirement age.
The problem, however, falls not only on those who want to enter the country, but also on those who still reside in the UK. From July 1, even those who have lived in the country all their lives, if they do not have so-called Settled Status, will become illegal immigrants and will not have access to healthcare. Before Brexit, in fact, European citizens who lived and worked in the UK had a special status recognised by the EU, namely that of permanent residence. With Brexit, this status has lapsed and has been replaced by Settled Status, but this is a British institution and no longer European. More than 5.5 million Europeans have applied, but it is estimated that hundreds are still missing.
Translated by Irene Leonardi