What’s the Impact of Brexit on UK’s Higher Education for International Students?

The United Kingdom has long been known as an educational powerhouse, home to esteemed universities like Oxford, Cambridge, and Imperial College London. These institutions attract thousands of international students each year. However, the seismic political event known as Brexit is reshaping the landscape of higher education in the UK, and its impact on international students is significant. This article explores these implications, dissecting the issues of university applications, visa regulations, course fees, and the overall study experience for students from overseas.

Brexit and University Applications: Navigating the New Terrain

Brexit signals the UK’s departure from the European Union, and this separation has cast a shadow over the once straightforward process of university applications for international students.

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Post-Brexit, EU students no longer enjoy the same privileges as their UK counterparts when it comes to university applications. Previously, they were considered home students, but they are now classified as international applicants, which could mean more competition and stricter entrance requirements.

In the 2020/21 academic year, the number of EU students applying to UK universities fell by around 40%, according to data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). This figure is a stark indication that Brexit has made the UK a less attractive study destination for European students.

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The Changing Visa Landscape

The UK’s exit from the EU has also led to a tightening of visa regulations, which has made it more challenging for international students to study in the UK.

Previously, EU students did not require a visa to study in the UK, but this is no longer the case. They are now subject to the same visa requirements as other international students, which includes proving they have a place on a course at an accredited institution, demonstrating they can support themselves financially for the duration of their studies, and potentially paying a healthcare surcharge.

This additional paperwork and the associated costs can be a deterrent for students considering studying in the UK. The new Point Based System, implemented in 2021, however, has sought to streamline this process, making it easier for international students to understand what they need to do to study in the UK post-Brexit.

Course Fees and Higher Education: The Financial Implications

Brexit has made studying in the UK significantly more expensive for international students, particularly those from the EU.

Prior to Brexit, EU students were charged the same fees as UK students, which was significantly lower than the fees for non-EU international students. Following Brexit, however, EU students have been reclassified as international students and are therefore subject to higher tuition fees.

The financial implications extend beyond just tuition. The cost of living in the UK, particularly in major cities like London, is high. Additionally, the falling value of the pound following the Brexit vote has made studying and living in the UK more expensive for international students.

The Brexit Impact on the Study Experience

Beyond the application, visa, and financial implications, Brexit has also potentially impacted the overall experience of studying in the UK for international students.

Many universities have raised concerns about the potential impact of Brexit on their ability to attract top academic talent, which could in turn impact the quality of education on offer. With the UK being more isolated, there may be fewer opportunities for students to participate in exchange programs, collaborative research projects, or other initiatives that encourage international cooperation.

Despite these challenges, it is important to acknowledge that many universities in the UK are going to great lengths to ensure that international students continue to have a positive study experience. They are offering more scholarships, enhancing support services, and actively promoting the benefits of a UK education to students around the world.

It is clear that Brexit has shaken up the higher education landscape in the UK, and its ripple effects are being felt by international students. Understanding these changes is crucial for international students considering studying in the UK in the post-Brexit era. They will need to navigate new application and visa processes, plan for higher fees, and potentially recalibrate their expectations of their study experience. The impact of Brexit on UK’s higher education for international students is significant, and these changes are likely to continue to unfold in the coming years.

Turing Scheme: A New Horizon for International Students

Brexit has not only reshaped existing structures but also created the opportunity for new ones to emerge. One such development is the Turing Scheme, the UK’s replacement for the Erasmus+ program, which used to subsidize UK students’ study in other European countries and vice versa.

The Turing Scheme aims to provide funding for around 35,000 students in universities, colleges, and schools to go on placements and exchanges overseas from September 2022. Unlike the Erasmus+ program, the Turing Scheme is global, offering students the opportunity to study in any country in the world, not just Europe.

While the scheme is primarily designed to benefit UK students, there are potential advantages for international students as well. Universities across the UK are forming new partnerships with institutions around the world, broadening the scope of student exchanges, and providing a wider range of study opportunities.

This could lead to more international students coming to the UK on exchange programmes, creating a more diverse and vibrant student community. Furthermore, the scheme promotes the exchange of ideas and cultures, which could enhance the overall study experience for international students in the UK.

Future of Higher Education Post-Brexit: A Way Forward

Despite the hurdles brought by Brexit, the United Kingdom’s higher education sector continues to adapt and evolve. Universities are investing more resources in international student recruitment and are taking steps to ensure that the UK remains a top study destination for students worldwide.

Efforts are being made to improve the visa process for international students. Universities are lobbying for more favourable visa policies and offering support services to help students navigate the visa application process.

Moreover, many universities are expanding their scholarship programs to help offset the higher tuition fees and make studying in the UK more affordable for international students. Initiatives like the University of Manchester’s "Global Futures Scholarships", for example, are designed to attract talented international students by offering financial assistance.

Brexit has undoubtedly altered the UK’s higher education landscape. However, it’s crucial for international students to remember that the UK remains a hub for world-class education, and its universities continue to offer a rich and rewarding study experience.


Brexit has undeniably had a significant impact on the UK’s higher education sector for international students. The changes in university applications, student visa regulations, and tuition fees have presented new challenges for students looking to study in the UK from abroad.

However, the UK’s higher education sector is resilient and adaptable. With initiatives such as the Turing Scheme and the expansion of scholarship opportunities, the UK continues to strive to maintain its position as a leading global destination for higher education.

Looking forward, international students must be well-informed and prepared to navigate the changes brought about by Brexit. Despite the challenges, studying in the UK still provides an opportunity to receive a high-quality education, learn from top academic talent, and experience a diverse and vibrant cultural environment. Brexit’s impact on UK higher education for international students is significant, but not insurmountable.

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