University applications from EU countries fall by 9%

Applications from European Union countries for places on medicine, dentistry and veterinary degrees in the United Kingdom and for all courses at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge have fallen by 9% in a year, ending a trend of annual increases over recent years, according to new figures.

The fall comes in the wake of the referendum decision to leave the EU and uncertainty over the arrangements for EU students starting courses in 2017-18, which lifted only four days before the 15 October deadline for application to these particular courses.

It is not possible to say whether this signals a likely longer-term impact of Brexit or is just a temporary dip.

The total number of applicants to the 15 October deadline courses is 57,190 – an increase of 1% on last year (+560 people). This is in line with the typical numbers applying in recent cycles; between 56,000 and 58,000 people.

But applicants from the EU to this deadline have fallen by 9% (-620 people) to 6,240. EU applicant numbers for this 2017 entry cycle are close to where they were for the 2015 cycle, reversing the 8% increase seen in the previous (2016) cycle, according to UCAS, the central organisation through which applications for places in higher education are processed.

Applicant numbers from outside the EU have increased by a similar amount as last year, 1%, to 11,510 people.

Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive, said: “Typically, only 10% of eventual applicants apply by this stage so the full picture of demand for UK higher education, including from EU students, will only be clear after the main January deadline.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “Only a small percentage of applicants apply by this date and we must wait until the main January deadline before we see the full picture for this application cycle.”

“This fall does, however, highlight the importance of ensuring that prospective European applicants are made fully aware of the fees and financial support arrangements well in advance of the applications window. It is important also that we make clear that European students continue to be welcome in coming to the UK to study.

“The UCAS process for accepting applications for 2017 opened on 6 September, but the government guarantee on fees and financial support for EU students for 2017 entry was not provided until 11 October, only days before the October deadline.

“To avoid future uncertainty, we need the government to extend these transitional arrangements now for EU students considering applying for courses starting in 2018. These prospective European students will soon be starting to consider whether to apply to study at British universities.”

Unhelpful language

The University and College Union, or UCU, urged ministers to scrap the controversial Higher Education Bill and take more care in the language they use to avoid sending dangerous messages to the rest of the world that students are not welcome here.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said: “Although these figures are for a small number of courses with an early deadline, they are still concerning. We don't think the delay from the government confirming the deal for EU students was helpful, and fear and continued confusion over what the vote to leave means for universities is likely to harm our chances of encouraging students and staff to come to our universities.”

She said some of the unhelpful language from ministers is, understandably, being reported around the world and sending a worrying message that the UK is not open for business.

“The government should pause the current Higher Education Bill and focus on clearing up what Brexit means for our universities – starting with guaranteeing the status of the thousands of EU staff working in our universities.”

On 11 October, the government announced that European Union students applying for a place at an English university in the 2017 to 2018 academic year will continue to be eligible for student loans and grants – and will be for the duration of their course.

The decision will mean that students applying to study from 2017 to 2018 will not only be eligible for the same funding and support as they are now, but that their eligibility will continue throughout their course, even if the United Kingdom exits the European Union during that period.