The number of EU students applying to UK universities has fallen by 7 per cent, data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) shows.
This comes alongside news of a wider drop in the number of students going on to higher education. Figures from UCAS show that, overall, applications to university in the UK have dropped by 5 per cent. EU students currently have access to the UK’s public-backed fee loans system and are subject to the same tuition fee cap as home students. The government announced in October that EU students applying for 2017 entry at Oxford will remain subject to this arrangement for the duration of their courses.
Times Higher Education figures show that despite the drop in EU applications to 42,070, the number of international applicants is similar to last year, at 52,630.
Applications from the EU to Cambridge have dropped by 14 per cent for undergraduate courses.
At a parliamentary select committee hosted by Pembroke College, Oxford last month, leading academics warned MPs that a hard Brexit could be the “biggest disaster” in higher education in years.
NUS Vice President Sorana Vieru said of the news: “The seven per cent decline in applications of students from the EU after the referendum result should be seen as a warning that studying in the UK is a considerably less attractive option than it was 12 months ago.
“It is unacceptable for Theresa May to use EU students as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. To help reverse this worrying decline, she must take international students out of net migration figures.”
In recent years, applications from EU students increased by 7.4 per cent between 2014 and 2015 and then again by another 6 per cent from 2015 and 2016.
Universities UK Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge, who pointed to the UK’s weakening competitive position: “We are concerned about EU numbers. Bear in mind this is coinciding with our competitor countries, particularly in the EU, seeing this as a huge advantage for them.
“They are redoubling their marketing efforts and see Brexit as posing a good opportunity for them to recruit internationally mobile EU students.”
In a separate statement earlier this month on falling international student numbers for 2015/16, Ms Dandridge added: “The UK could be doing much better than this. The UK has the potential to be one of the world’s fastest growing destinations for international students, building on its current status as the second most popular destination for international students [after the US]. The UK benefits enormously, economically and academically, from international students.
“If the UK wants to remain a top destination for international students and academics, it needs a new approach to immigration that is proportionate and welcoming for talented people from across the world. This will be even more important as the UK looks to enhance its place in the world post-Brexit.”
In December Cambridge University sent a written submission on the dangers of Brexit to the university sector to MPs on the Education Select Committee.
The letter read: “Assuming that EU students move to the unregulated international [tuition fees] rate, it is almost certain that application numbers will fall further. We are currently modelling a two-third reduction in admissions from the non-UK EU.”
The Conservative chair of the committee commented: “It’s crucial that we don’t allow Brexit to become a catastrophe for our university sector.”
Head of Oxford University’s Brexit Strategy, Professor Alastair Buchan, declined to comment.