Britain's university population is already becoming “more British” post-Brexit, as plummeting numbers of European Union students mean the proportion of British students is on the rise.
Analysis by education consultancy DataHE showed that this year would constitute the first increase in the share of British students since the late 2000s.
This year also saw a record number of British applicants placed on results day, although DataHE estimates that, following a quiet clearing period, the final number of students will be about 450,000 to 460,000 -- similar to the 2020 total of 454,000 but still an increase over 2019 numbers.
However, 2021 saw a 59 percent drop in E.U. students placed at a British university two weeks after results day, from 27,510 to 11,390. Numbers of non-E.U. international students have gone up by 7 percent so far this year, to 44,240 in total.
“E.U. student numbers are set to plunge this year to levels not seen for decades,” said Mark Corver, co-founder of DataHE and a former director of analysis and research at Ucas.
His analysis found that there were notable falls of about 80 percent in recruitment from countries such as Poland and Bulgaria. Following Brexit, this autumn is the first year that students from the E.U. will have to pay full international fees.
The drop in E.U. students is stark in Scotland, where they have gone from paying no fees to being charged international fees. The number of E.U. students in Scottish institutions dropped by 64 percent, from 3,700 to 1,320.
The drop has corresponded with an increase in Scottish students getting places at Scottish universities, whose student numbers are capped. This year, Scottish students will make up 74 percent of Scotland’s university population, compared with 71 percent last year.
For finance directors, the fall in E.U. numbers may not be as bad as it appears, due to the massive fees they now pay as international students, Corver said.
“One of the things we’ve said [to universities] is that we expect U.K. students to become more important to volumes, finances and so on, because demand is likely to grow faster here than elsewhere,” he added.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that while there were some positives -- particularly in Scotland, where there has been a mismatch between supply and demand for local applicants for years -- there were concerns about future changes in international proportions.
“I’m clearly pleased that lots of British students are going to get the benefit of attending university, but the balances are a worry,” he said. “One reason is that all educational settings, including universities, are best when there’s a diverse body of students. You learn from sitting next to people from other cultures, other backgrounds, speaking other languages.”
He added that this was particularly important as Britain was “catastrophically bad” at teaching modern languages and benefits from having European linguists studying and then staying to teach in Britain.
“I also worry that it will impact on the socioeconomic breakdown of students, with only the richest European students able to study here,” he added. “Brexit and COVID have led to the erection of national boundaries unseen before.”