Wednesday, December 1, 2010


In the midst of the announcement on tuition fees yesterday, I thought back to an article from the Guardian last March on the number of EU students coming to the UK. 

According to the report,

"Almost 118,000 students were admitted last year as numbers increased by almost five per cent, it was revealed. Students from European Union states count towards the strict cap on university places imposed by the Government – putting them in direct competition with applicants from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

The disclosure – in figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency – comes amid unprecedented pressure on university admissions during the economic downturn.  In 2009, 588,689 people applied for undergraduate courses – a rise of almost nine per cent – but more than 100,000 failed to get in.

According to figures, the number of EU students increased by 4.9 per cent to 117,660 in 2008/9.Ireland, Germany, France, Greece, Cyprus and Poland sent the most students to UK universities, it was disclosed. Students' places are subsidised by the taxpayer and they are eligible for the same low-interest Government loans as those taken out by British students. 

Competition is expected to be even more fierce this year following an unprecedented 23 per cent surge in the overall number of applications. Demand from EU students is up 33 per cent - fuelled by new member states. Applicants from Lithuania and Latvia have more than doubled, while those from Romania are up by more than 70 per cent. The latest figures come just days after it emerged that many eastern European students were taking advantage of cheap tickets on no-frills airlines to access courses in the UK. Figures earlier this week also showed that more than 5,000 places at Russell Group universities were taken up by EU students last year – an increase of a third in just three years."

Of course, under EU law, Wales cannot discriminate against students from other European countries although it has the right to set variable fees for students at a national (i.e. UK) level.

This means that whilst students from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland will have to pay full fees if studying at Welsh universities, those from EU countries will be treated the same as domiciled Welsh students.

Given that tuition fees in England are set to be around £4000-£6000 higher than Wales, will this result in higher numbers of EU students now choosing Wales if they decide to come to the UK to study?

If so, what effect will this have on the university sector in Wales?