A dramatic drop in the number of EU students applying to study in Scotland in the past year has been branded “deeply concerning”, with Brexit getting the blame.
According to statistics from UCAS, the admissions service, the percentage of students living in other European countries who applied to study at a Scottish university dropped by 56% from 2020 to 2021.
Previously, students from the EU were able to attend university in Scotland free of charge, with awards agency SAAS covering the cost of their tuition fees.
The impact of Brexit means that from this year any EU student who does not have settled or pre-settled status will have to pay “astronomical” tuition fees.
The UK is also now no longer part of the Erasmus scheme, which allowed students to do part of their studying in other universities across Europe.
‘Astronomical fees’ to blame for decline
Matt Crilly, president of the National Union of Students in Scotland, said: “It’s deeply concerning to see the number of EU students applying to Scottish universities drop again this year.
“It is unsurprising that EU students are now faced with astronomical fees to access learning in Scotland.
“NUS Scotland will continue to make the case to protect students from the disastrous impact of the UK Government’s hard Brexit agenda and hope the Scottish Government will work with us as a top priority to ensure a replacement Erasmus scheme will be swiftly introduced.”
A spokesman Universities Scotland, which represents higher education groups, said the drop was expected because of Brexit.
“EU students, like students from across the world, are always welcome at Scottish universities where they receive a world-class education,” a University Scotland spokesperson said.
“Having EU students at our universities is beneficial for Scottish students and for society more widely too.”
Sharp decline at Aberdeen University
Over 3,800 international students from 120 different countries worldwide are currently enrolled at Aberdeen University – over a quarter of the student body.
The university said the number of EU students applying to study there has dropped, because of the free tuition fees policy being removed.
A spokesperson said: “As with other Scottish universities we have seen a sharp decline in applications from prospective EU students this year, with EU students commencing their studies from September 2021 no longer being eligible for the tuition fee rates and support that applies to Scottish students.
“The university continues to value greatly the many cultural and intellectual contributions which EU students make to our community, and we have therefore introduced a transitional scholarship package to support prospective EU students during this period.”
“We are, at the same time, delighted to see an increase in applications from Scottish, UK and international students, and look forward to welcoming all our new and returning students back to campus in September.”
‘The blame lies solely with the Tories’
Clare Adamson, who is an SNP MSP and convener of the education and skills committee at Holyrood, said the blame for the declining number of EU students lies with the Conservatives and Brexit.
She said: “Yet again we see the opportunities of young people being squeezed by the Tory UK Government and their Brexit obsession.
“Not only are European students losing out on studying at some of the best universities in the world, but students in Scotland are missing out on the diversity and learning experience that comes from students who come from other countries.
“The Tories will try and hide behind the pandemic, but the truth is that applications from non-EU countries such as China and the USA have increased compared to last year.
“The blame lies solely with the Tories and Brexit.
“Young people continue to have barrier after barrier put in front of them by the Tories.
“They have scrapped Erasmus, with the replacement scheme a shadow of Erasmus, and now Scottish students will lose out on the opportunity to learn from our European friends and neighbours.
“We cannot trust the Tories with the future of Scotland’s young people – the only way to protect our future generations is with independence, where Scotland can retake its place at the top table of the European Union.”
The Scottish Conservatives declined to give us a comment for this story.