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The barrier to academic adventure.
Goodbye EU students

Paulina Utnik, City, University of London

The day when the UK became a part of the EU was the day a bridge was forged between access to higher education and international collaboration. Young people from all over Europe could interweave and form connections and relationships as they flew in to share their culture with the UK. Having a variety of students from different backgrounds has become a part of the university experience. But in light of preposterously high fees and inability to access comprehensible student loans, what will the lecture hall look like now?


It has recently been announced that starting from the 2021/2022 academic year, EU students will no longer be eligible for Home status or funding. While EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals benefitting from Citizens’ Rights under the EU Withdrawal Agreement, EEA EFTA Separation Agreement or Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement will not be affected, there is no way of definitively understanding who qualifies and under what terms. 


Most incoming EU, EEA, and Swiss national students will be classified as ‘International’ and will have to pay the same costs as students from countries outside of the EU. These fees can be astronomical in comparison to the current £9,250 yearly payment, ranging between £10,000-£38,000. If they wish to study in the medical realm, the costs associated with that can reach as high as £40,000 per academic year. This will be especially tough on many students from Eastern Europe, where the pound sterling dominates over local currencies, as seen with the humble Polish zloty. For Polish adolescents, the dream of studying at world-renowned UK institutions will be shattered simply because of their family’s limited financial ability.


Lecture halls will not be empty, but there will be a cultural gap, for sure. Universities will go from receiving thousands of applications with students of high academic calibre, looking for new experiences to become diversified only by students of affluent families and high-income backgrounds. Currently, around 11% of students in higher education are EU nationals, according to statistics published by the Student Loan Company. While no definitive study has provided a precise statistic of their economic backgrounds, it can be assumed that inside that percentage, low-income pupils reaped the benefits of the Home status. 


The director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, admits that there is a direct correlation between rising academic fees without access to comprehensive student loans and a decline in applicants. He indicates that there is a risk of a 60% drop in EU students coming into the country to study. If his hypothesis is correct, only around 4% of students in UK institutions will be of EU background.


In the context of Brexit, this development is not as surprising. The UK has previously stated that it will leave the EU amicably but will not subject any privileges onto incoming EU students. Objectively speaking there will be no special bond between the UK and European countries after the transition year finishes on 31st December 2020. Therefore, to expect unique treatment for EU citizens would be unjust. That being said, after over a decade of consistent collaboration, it seems unbeneficial to disband the links forged between different nations through academia. To turn your back on students who have dreamed of studying at UK institutions with the belief that their dreams were concrete is heart-breaking.


The future is filled with prospects of high fees and a lack of access to a loan system which allows students to cover not only tuition costs but also living costs in the form of a maintenance loan. In a report by TVN24, reporters noted that doors to higher education are closing for most Polish students. Without such a financial cushion, those of lower-income backgrounds might not be able to justify the economic expenses when studying in the UK. This will result in a wealth divide.


Currently, diverse groups of students from all over Europe are able to study in the UK as they receive financial help from a variety of different sectors. The ability of young people to study in different countries plays a vital role in shaping the future of their home countries. It fosters international relations and bridges the gaps between nations. Perhaps we will see a scholarship programme development within the EU, helping students of lower-income backgrounds but high academic calibre gain access to world-class eaducational institutions. 


As of now, there are around 800,000 Poles in the UK, and according to the Federation of Polish Student Societies in the UK, over 9000 of those are students. As immigrants, they have formed communities based on the common background but have also simultaneously intertwined their lives within this country. The Polonia is a stable immigration group within the UK, and to place a barrier for education will mean that it will likely begin to diminish.


Whatsmore, Polish students at British institutions have grown roots through the creation of ‘PolSocs’ - Polish Student Societies. They are supported by the Federation of Polish Student Societies in the UK.  PolSocs unite members and allow them to celebrate their traditions such as Polish Independence Day, ‘Fat Thursday’ or Constitution Day. Students can get the ‘home away from home’ feeling as they form relationships with people of similar backgrounds. This is also why every single year hundreds of Polish students attend various Polish conferences like Congress of Polish Student Societies in the UK or LSE: Polish Economic Forum. It gives them a chance to meet fellow Poles from all over the UK and bond during taking part in debates and attending sophisticated balls.


Dominik Frej, the president of Federation of Polish Student Societies in the UK, stated that the Federation stands against any form of fostering inequalities and promotes the integration of all students, regardless of their origin, background or economic situation. Therefore, ‘The community of Polish students in the UK goes above and beyond its academic curriculum to take a stand in the public debates in the UK, EU, and Poland.’ It also calls on the Ministry of Science and Higher Education in Poland to join the discussion on creating a Polish scheme of funding studies in the UK. 


‘We believe that our country should provide possibilities for the development of the highest quality to those who will shape its future - to young Polish minds.’ Nevertheless, as of now, students who had begun their study prior to the announcement may continue to study and live in the UK at the same terms as when they began until they graduate. Yet for those looking to study after the 2020/2021 academic year, the future remains unknown.


Stay updated about the issue by following the Federation of Polish Student Societies in the UK on Facebook (@FederationOfPolishStudentSocietiesUK).

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