The announcement came as part of a tumultuous week for the UK higher education sector, during which Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap general election and rumours swirled that May is willing to soften her long-held stance on non-EU students being included in net migration figures.
“This announcement gives EU students the certainty they need as well as giving our universities clarity to plan ahead”
Announcing the tuition fee assurances for EU students today, Minister for Universities and Science Jo Johnson said: “We have been clear about our commitment to the UK’s world-class higher education sector.”
“This will provide reassurance to the brightest minds from across Europe to continue applying to study in the UK, safe in the knowledge financial assistance is available if needed.”
Johnson also confirmed that EU nationals remain eligible for Research Council PhD studentships at UK institutions in 2018/19.
The announcement will come as a relief to the education sector, which has been pushing for funding assurances as the UK prepares to exit from the EU. It follows a similar guarantee from the Scottish government last month.
“This announcement gives EU students the certainty they need when considering studying in the UK as well as giving our universities clarity to plan ahead,” commented Tim Bradshaw, acting director of the Russell Group.
Alistair Jarvis, deputy chief executive of Universities UK, also welcomed the announcement but stressed: “It is now vital that this announcement is communicated effectively to prospective students across Europe.”
“Moving forward, we need to see a new post-Brexit immigration policy that encourages all international students to choose to study in the UK coupled with welcoming messages from government, recognising their hugely positive social and economic impact on the UK,” he added.
Higher education stakeholders also expressed cautious optimism this week amid rumours that Prime Minister Theresa May could be softening her stance on including non-EU students in net migration targets.
The sector has lobbied for international students to be counted not as migrants, to ensure they are not targeted by the government’s efforts to reduce inbound migration.
The House of Lords has tabled an amendment to Johnson’s Higher Education and Research Bill – a sweeping package of reforms that aims to open up degree granting powers to more private providers and enable universities to raise tuition fees based on teaching quality – to remove students from net migration figures.
The amendment has yet to be discussed in the House of Commons and its inclusion in the final bill is not guaranteed.
However, there is speculation that the government will offer a “regulatory compromise” on how non-EU student numbers are calculated in order to ensure the bill passes before the general election in June, The Times reported this week.
“Any decision to take international students – not out of the statistics but – out of the drive to cut net migration would obviously be hugely welcomed and would send a powerful signal both in the UK and around the world that we really do want to welcome all those who can benefit from a great British education and to see these numbers once again grow,” commented Dominic Scott, chief executive of the UK Council for International Student Affairs.