Spaniards still eager to study in British universities in spite of Brexit

Spaniards still eager to study in British universities in spite of Brexit

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Student applications have risen 30% since the 2016 referendum, but uncertainty remains over the future of the Erasmus exchange program

An increasing number of Spanish students are interested in studying in British universities despite Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, in a process commonly known as “Brexit.” Britain’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has seen a 30% rise in student applications from Spain since 2016, when Britain voted to leave the EU. Requests from German and Bulgarian students, however, fell 10% this academic year.

There are currently 13,000 Spaniards studying at universities in the United Kingdom, which has six of the world’s top 50 universities, according to the Academic Ranking of World Universities, also known as the Shanghai Ranking.

“We have lost the fear of crossing borders, students are increasingly investigating all their options, and our level of English has also improved greatly,” says Carolina Jiménez, the head of Education and Society at the British Council in Madrid.

This academic year, Spanish and British students are paying £9,500 (€11,000) in annual tuition fees – except in Scotland where locals and EU citizens (with the exception of students from England, North Ireland and Wales) are subsidized and pay £1,000 (€1,200). Spaniards who are already studying in the UK will continue to enjoy the same conditions post-Brexit, while new students will find out in the upcoming months what their new university fee will be. As a guide, a student from a non-EU country pays £12,000 (€14,200) a year.

“We could not risk there being a no-deal Brexit,” says Rafael Jiménez, the vice-rector of internationalization at Cádiz University, where no students will be going to Britain on an Erasmus program this year or the next. According to Jiménez, the UK is no longer the only destination for university students who want to learn in English: “Now there are lots of degrees available in English in other countries such as Poland, the Netherlands, and Germany.”

In the 2015-2016 academic year, 31,067 students from the EU chose to go on the Erasmus exchange program in the United Kingdom. Two years later, that figure rose slightly to 31,877. But the ratio shrank in terms of the global number of exchanges, going from 10.22% to 9.37%.

The future of the Erasmus program will depend on what agreement is reached between the EU and Britain, says Carolina Jiménez, from the British Council. Students beginning an Erasmus year in 2021 have been left in limbo, although there is hope that there will be a deal. Spanish students completing an entire degree will also become foreigners after 2021. “Classes in the UK could be filled with Chinese students tomorrow,” says Jiménez. “British universities are so competitive because they are international, so diverse.”

Carolina Jiménez is confident that a deal will be struck to keep the Erasmus program, which was created more than 30 years ago by the European Union as a way to bring the continent together through university research and education. “It is a very well-established program, getting rid of it would mean we all lose out,” she says.

In January, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that “students from the UK will continue to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, and they will also be able to come.” But to date no agreement has been made.

“We are signing bilateral agreements with British universities that want to continue with the Erasmus program,” says Efrem Yildiz, the vice-rector of international relations at Salamanca University. “But I don’t believe that EU politicians are so inept as to not realize that these programs give meaning to the European Union. It would be suicide [to lose the program].”

According to Jiménez, from the British Council, “the students who come next year will have to ask for a visa. But given that this is processed by the university, it won’t be complicated. They will also lose their EU health card, although with the visa they will be able to access the public health system.”

Britain closes the door to non-English speakers

The British government announced on Tuesday plans to change its immigration policy to make it more difficult to enter the country and access the labor market. The overhaul would close the UK’s borders to non-English speakers and unskilled workers. As part of the new proposed point-system, anyone wanting to come to Britain to work must also have a job offer with a salary threshold of £25,600 (€30,600). The new policy is set to have a major impact on the hotel industry, agriculture and the public health system, which employs 65,000 EU workers – nearly 6,000 of whom are Spanish nurses and doctors.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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