Jenny, a former teacher, has explored the higher education options in the EU. When the UK was still within the EU, a British person had the right to study in any one of 28 EU countries and be charged the same fees as someone born there.
Across Europe, there are thousands of higher education courses actually taught in English (1,841 in Germany alone.) Generally, these degrees, so expensive in the UK, are more affordable there, or even completely free. You need EU nationality to qualify for lower fees. So we had those opportunities and have now lost them. With the UK being a ‘third country’, UK students will generally be charged much more.
In the UK, there are varying costs for a Master’s degree, for example, but on average as a UK student you’ll pay £11,000 a year.
But let’s say you’re a graduate wanting to do an International Politics Master’s at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. For EU citizens it costs €2,209 (approx £1,837), but if you’re from a third country it will set you back €19,300 (£16,057).
Interested in doing a Software Technology Master’s at Linnaeus University in Sweden? As a UK graduate, you pay 155,000 Swedish krona (£12,520) in fees. But if you’re an EU citizen – nothing. Not one krona.
University fees vary in the EU, but in several countries young people can study for free.
Of course the UK has a good range of Master’s degrees, and most are happy with their choices here. However, the chance to affordably study abroad, make friends and network with people from all over our continent, plan a career unlimited by borders and visa requirements, and develop confidence from living there, well, those are opportunities that are hard to beat.
And alongside the other rights and freedoms we have given up, this one seems very sad.
A graduate’s personal account
Louis, a young Essex graduate, was one of the last UK students to be able to take advantage of studying affordably in the EU before Brexit. He took a Master’s in the Netherlands. Jenny asked him some questions about his experience.
Q: Why did you choose to study abroad?
A: I originally wanted to study abroad because I saw it as a new and unique opportunity to live in a different culture and meet people from around the world. On a more personal level, I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and do something a bit different rather than just staying in the UK to do my Master’s, which would have been a lot less daunting. Studying in the Netherlands struck a good balance for me where I was still close to home (only a 4-hour train journey from London to Amsterdam) but far enough so that I could live independently and experience a new culture.
The far lower cost of a Master’s degree in the Netherlands (€2048 for my course, less than £1,700) was also a factor, although I still needed financial support from my parents to afford my accommodation as you do not qualify for a postgraduate loan to study abroad. What I can say for sure is that I would not have been able to afford to study in the Netherlands if I had to pay the non-EU/EEA fees, which for my course was €16,900 – this I think would apply to almost all UK students other than the very wealthy.
Q: What did you gain from studying abroad?
A: Due to the pandemic and various lockdowns, my year studying in Amsterdam was somewhat limited, so I met fewer people than I would have hoped and experienced less of the culture than I would have in normal times. Nevertheless, it was still a great life experience in which I met some great people from across Europe and some from further afield. Being one of the international students in Amsterdam automatically makes you part of the international student community. Through this I was able to form a close group of friends who came from Ireland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the UK. Through these friendships I got such a unique insight into each of these respective countries – whether it be the food, cultural values or the politics – and learnt things that can only be learned through this natural social interaction.
Q: Do you see longer term benefits?
A: While I think studying abroad is worth it purely as a life experience and for personal development, it undoubtedly has benefits for employment as well. On the one hand, as I was living in Amsterdam, I had a 5 year temporary residence permit which would have allowed me to stay and work in the Netherlands without having to worry about the complexities and stress of getting a work visa. In addition, all the people I met studying in Amsterdam are now contacts who are working all over the world. Employment opportunities might arise through these contacts. Finally – and I don’t wish to sound hubristic – employers also look favourably on studying abroad (from my experience and from what others have said). I think now I have studied abroad, I’m far more likely to agree to working abroad in the future as well if I’m able to – this naturally opens up far more career paths and opportunities.”