With EU funding to end and the number of international students from the EU expected to fall, many Scottish university courses may not have enough students to continue being taught and one third of British universities might be under threat
Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, the Principal of Edinburgh University, claimed that ‘in some quite important areas, it is the students from the EU that are ensuring that key subjects have enough highly qualified students to study them.’ He worried that courses could become ‘unviable, in the sense that there would not be enough university students to teach.’
Out of the almost 232,570 students at Scottish Universities, around 20,000 are international students from the EU. Alistair Sim, the Director of Universities Scotland, acknowledged that, although there remained high demand for places from home students, ‘a sudden loss of EU students could send shockwaves through certain subjects.’ He raised concerns that this could even ‘limit choice for our home students.’
However, Mary Senior, Scottish Officer for UCU, the lecturers’ union, claimed that cutting courses was not the answer. She argued that ‘it is important for universities not to take short-sighted decisions based on worst case scenarios, and instead plan for the long-term future of all subjects.’
There are currently 125,000 international students from the EU studying at universities across the UK, supporting 19,000 British jobs and contributing £2.7 billion to the economy. However UCAS reported that, for the 2017/18 academic year, there has been a 9% drop in the number of early applications to British universities from the EU.
The Brexit vote has undeniably been a critical factor in this. Sara Abouhilal, a first year Liberal Arts student at UoB who is from Poland, told Redbrick that ‘despite the university’s prompt reassurance my conditions are not going to change, I am now much more insecure about my future in the UK as a European student.’ She said that, despite Brexit, ‘people think of [Britain] as a bright, better world so they will probably still want to come’, although she noted that if there was an increase in fees ‘people are not going to be able to afford it.’
The Prime Minister has not offered any guarantee to EU students in the UK beyond the 2017/18 academic year.
Professor Hugh Brady, the Vice Chancellor of Bristol University, said the government must not use EU students as ‘bargaining chips.’ Brady said in a Sky News interview that ‘if we want to continue to compete at that very top-level, we have to maintain funding and, if international student funding drops, that hole has got to be fulfilled be either government funding or increased tuition fees.’ The UK receives about £1 billion from the EU in research funding each year, and EU funding comprises as much as 15% of a university’s income at some institutions in the UK.
‘The lower one-third of the sector would be under threat very quickly,’ warned Brady, in reference to the effects of the loss of EU students and funding, although he acknowledged that universities with a strong international reputation would be able to ‘weather the storm.’
The Government stated that, as the UK leaves the EU, they would seek to ‘remain a leading destination for the brightest and best minds at all stages of their careers.’
However, Brady claimed that ‘the UK system is up there with the very best in the world at the moment.’ He asked ‘why would we possibly want to jeopardise that system which is so important for our economic future?’