Invited to England

English universities are making a big push -- controversial to some -- for students from European Union countries.

February 4, 2016

A number of English universities, including some in the Russell Group, have increased their recruitment of European Union students by more than 40 percent after the removal of controls on undergraduate places.

The increases were part of a record 11 percent increase in E.U. numbers across the U.K. sector in 2015-16.

Universities said the rise came after they chose to step up recruitment on the Continent and was aimed at increasing diversity in their intake.

But funding for E.U. students, who are entitled to public-backed loans for tuition fees, has been criticized by British officials skeptical of the countries’ European ties. Continental graduates who return home are less likely to be repaying their loans than graduates who remain in Britain, an issue that could come to the surface again ahead of the forthcoming referendum on the U.K.’s E.U. membership.

The Higher Education Policy Institute had predicted in a 2014 report that there would be “clearer incentives for institutions to recruit E.U. students” once the government removed enrollment controls in 2015, including “increasing income” and “mitigating the effect of demographic change” given the declining population of 18-year-olds in the U.K.

A report from UCAS, which tracks admissions data, suggests that this did prove to be the case. “E.U.-domiciled acceptances form around 5-6 percent of all acceptances, and have increased in each cycle since 2006, apart from 2012. In 2015, acceptances from other countries in the E.U. increased by 2,900 (11.1 percent) to a record 29,300, the highest increase in a single year across the reported period,” it says.

Figures for individual institutions recently published by UCAS show which universities increased E.U. recruitment the most in 2015.

Leading the list in terms of English institutions (applying a minimum bar of 100 E.U. students recruited in 2015) was University College Birmingham, where total E.U. acceptances rose from 165 the previous year to 285, a 72.7 percent increase.

It was followed by the University of Northampton (up from 95 to 140, a 47.4 percent increase), the University of East Anglia (up from 165 to 240, a 45.5 percent increase), Newcastle University (also up from 165 to 240) and the University of Southampton (up from 290 to 415, a 43.1 percent increase).

It was not just English institutions that increased recruitment from the E.U. Abertay University, in Scotland, went from 60 E.U. students to 130 (a 116.7 percent rise) and Swansea University, in Wales, went from 120 to 195 (a 63 percent increase). However, 10 of the 12 biggest risers were English institutions.

A Newcastle spokesman said, “The removal of student number controls has certainly given universities more flexibility to accept E.U. students. This, together with a deliberate strategy to recruit high-quality E.U. students in order to further promote diversity in our student body, has contributed to our rise in E.U. student intake.”

A Southampton spokesman said, “Achieving a broad diversity in our recruitment has long been part of our ongoing plans, and E.U. students are a part of that.”

He added, “We have increased our recruitment activity in the E.U., with a full-time E.U. recruitment officer in the international office now that the student number controls cap has come off. It is a definite part of our international strategy.”

According to the most recently published Student Loans Company data on E.U. borrowers with income-contingent loans who studied in England, 10 percent were resident overseas under the category “no details of income provided so placed in arrears.” Another 16 percent were under the category “not currently repaying, further information being sought.”

Peter Lilley, a Conservative MP and so-called Euroskeptic, who has previously criticized funding for E.U. students, said, “I am all in favor of E.U. students studying at U.K. universities. But they should not be subsidized by the British taxpayer. Since they are entitled to U.K. student loans, we should insist that the governments of E.U. countries from which they come underwrite their loans, since there is a very high level of default by E.U. students and no way the British government can enforce loan repayment in their countries,” he said.

José Manuel Barroso, former president of the European Commission, told Times Higher Education last year that Europe was now the “most advanced” single higher education region in the world, “even more than the U.S., in terms of student and faculty mobility.” He also argued that Britain derived soft power and financial benefits from increased student mobility via E.U. membership.

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