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“Take down the ‘open to all’ banners”: EU students raise concerns over declining numbers on campus

Increased fees due to Brexit has seen the number of students from the European Union decrease by more than 40% since 2018

By Sara Aku

Photo by Christoph Scholz, CC BY-SA 2.0

Just nine percent of students at the University of Aberdeen were from the European Union in the last academic year, down from 20% prior to Brexit, The Gaudie can reveal.

European students interviewed by The Gaudie have expressed concerns over the slow “disappearance” of EU communities and student societies on campus.

The rights and fee status of EU students changed drastically in 2021, when the UK left the European Union.

Instead of free mobility rights, EU students must apply for the International Student Visa with extra costs and limitations. Since 2021, EU students have seen the cost of their tuition fees increase tenfold.

At UoA, the tuition fees for most degrees increased from £1,820 to £18,000 post-Brexit and are currently starting from £20,800. In addition, EU students were previously eligible to apply for the SAAS tuition fee waiver but are now only eligible for a tuition fee reduction of £5,000 from the University.

Three years after the new policies came into effect, The Gaudie has investigated how they have affected the number of EU students at the University of Aberdeen. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), the share of EU students at the University of Aberdeen has decreased dramatically in recent years.

The decline can be seen in the number of first year students starting their studies at the University as well as in the total number of EU students.

The academic year after Brexit (2021-2022) saw 70% less EU students starting their studies than the year before. The total number of EU students at the university decreased from over 2,000 to around 1,500 after Brexit.

From 2016 to 2019, nearly 20% of students at the University of Aberdeen were from the EU. But, after Brexit and the COVID pandemic, the share reached its lowest point during the last two academic years. In 2021/2022, just 9% of the student body were from the EU.

Put another way, there were 2,900 EU students at UoA in 2018/2019. This number decreased by approximately 40% over the next four years.

During the past academic year, there were still many EU students in their 3rd, 4th and 5th year who had started their studies before Brexit. As they graduate, the share of EU students at the University may continue to decrease in the coming years.

The Gaudie asked 40 current EU students and alumni what factors influenced their decision to undertake studies at the University of Aberdeen and how the policy changes have affected them.

Most EU students said that their tuition fees were covered by the SAAS tuition fee waiver during their studies. Only 9% of the respondents said that they are paying international tuition fees with or without an EU scholarship.

All of the EU students with an international fee status said that they are not content with the amount of tuition fees they are paying.

The EU students who had paid Home Fees during their studies said that they would not have started their studies at the University of Aberdeen after Brexit with international fees

Only 5% said they would have still decided to study at UoA with the higher tuition fees. This suggests that the increase in tuition fees is a significant factor in the decrease of EU students.

A recently graduated EU student said: “[The situation is] very unfortunate. I am very glad to have been able to pursue my studies at UoA, but finances and the fact I did not have to pay were a major part of that decision.”

A current EU student added that the changes have had a negative impact, and their worry about finances for paying tuition and visa fees has increased. Another current EU student said that the quality and the price of the education at the University of Aberdeen do not seem appealing to EU students anymore.

Multiple EU students said that they saw less national diversity on campus after Brexit.

A recently graduated Finnish student said: “I heard a lot less of my native language on campus during my last year. During the first two years it felt like I couldn't go anywhere on campus without running into a fellow Finnish person.”

Numerous EU students have said that the current EU scholarships are a great way to help students.

As an EU master’s student puts it: “The financial aid for EU students from the university for Postgraduate courses was the key factor in me doing my Master’s here. It’d be great if they could keep that up.”

However, not all students are satisfied. One EU student said that the University should “offer more scholarships and take down the ‘open to all’ banners. They’re not true.”

A University of Aberdeen spokesperson told The Gaudie:

“The University of Aberdeen is exceptionally proud of the contribution of EU students to the intellectual and cultural diversity of the University. Prior to Brexit, EU students were able to access free tuition (through SAAS) on the same basis as Scottish domiciled students.”

“However, new EU students joining the University from September 2021 onwards must be treated as international students. We continue to work hard to attract students from the EU.

“However, the additional cost for students means that fewer are able to join us, despite the £5,000 tuition fee discount per annum offered to Undergraduate/PGDE students and £3,500 discount for Postgraduate students. We continually review our scholarship offering to support a diverse student community from across the world.”


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