Brexit causes “terrible” barriers for EU students in the UK

European students studying in the UK say Brexit has put significant limitations on their study and career opportunities. And those thinking of coming to study here are finding it almost impossible to get visas.

In January 2023, the Higher Education Statistics Agency announced a decline by half in students coming from abroad.  Many blame the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

Karolina Wysocka is a final year Psychology student at the Cardiff University.
“It is terrible. Most of the PHD fundings, for example, are not fully accessible, your opportunities are just gone. You may not get it, because you’re not a British citizen.

My boyfriend – Mikolai, was trying to get many jobs in the industry, but kept getting rejected because he’s not British. He’s fed up. He decided to leave the UK and do his Masters degree in France.”

Amber Guernah, 23, was originally born in the UK, but lives in France with her family. While she hasn’t faced fee difficulties, she shared that Brexit has still affected her living.

She shared “Pre-Brexit UK was more welcoming and many of my friends from back home would consider the UK as somewhere to go, both as a dream place to study and as a goal for their career. Somewhere to travel and explore.

Amber Guernah in the Psychology Campus, Cardiff University

Since Brexit, the attitude has sorely changed. Many people who previously planned to come to the UK no longer can as the VISA process is too extensive and difficult. They would find it easier to just go out of the EU. It has also made the British perspective more hostile; both from the youth who revolt against Brexit and those who chose it, and a feeling of contradiction for non-British citizens who make it here.”

While the scheme is detrimental to Europeans, International students have a different experience.

Pratyasha Baruah, 23, from India, completing her Masters in Children’s Psychological Disorders at Cardiff university said:
“After Brexit, the post-study visa increased to two years for Indian students. Earlier it was for six months. The longer visa is the reason I chose to come here as it increases the chances of finding a suitable job for the long run.
I’d definitely like to find work and stay in the UK for at least the next five years.”

Raghad Al-Muslamani, 21, from Oman, received an open-scholarship to go study anywhere in the world. She chose Law & Criminology at Cardiff University.

Raghad Al-Muslamani in the Law sector at the Cardiff University Library

The first nine months of the visa didn’t allow her to work, the second one was to complete a Foundation year and for the last one she received three years as part of her studies.

Raghad said: “I couldn’t stay there. Their world is too close-minded. I haven’t lived anywhere else but Oman, and still knew I had to leave. In 2020 I applied for a scholarship.

Every time I go back, I wish to return here. I never felt home before. Home is not where you’re brought up, it’s the people you love and the people you can communicate with. For me, Cardiff is home.

If I try to do it all now, it’d be much harder to get it, especially the health forms. While Brexit didn’t affect me, it affected my studies. It’s confusing. What I’m studying now is the aftermath of the crisis – economical, nationalistic, political. It’s not about the law and how to use it, because it’s not applicable anymore – we can’t refer to a case law dealing with the EU law.”

Between 2020, the year before Brexit went into effect, and 2021, the number of students from the EU who enrolled for the first year of an undergraduate or postgraduate course decreased from 66,680 to 31,000.

With student finance no longer available to EU citizens, the sum seems impossible to pay, in places as high as £38.000.

Djoana Kancheva (left), 21, from Bulgaria, is a second year Film student at the University of South Wales. She first visited the UK at the age of 16 to see her father who worked in Bristol, England. She applied for a pre-settled status and was able to work during her summer vacation. When she graduated high school she applied for a post-graduate degree through the UCAS system.

However, her brother Antonio Kanchev, didn’t get the same chance.

Antonio Kanchev in front of the AUBG, Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Antonio Kanchev, 19 (right):
“I am currently studying Jousnalism and Mass communication at the American University of Bulgaria. Although I am satisfied with the education it offers, my initial desire was to study in the UK. In this way, I would have been a part of a more diverse community and be close to my sister, who lives and studies in Cardiff. However, due to Brexit, the tuition fees have increased and I’m not allowed to apply for student finance, which prevented me from realising this dream of mine.”

For comparison, data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that the number of non UK EU students at USW has gone from 1415 in 2017, compared to 660 in 2021.

Melisa Numan, 23, from Bulgaria, final year Photojournalism student at USW:

Melisa Numan in The Atrium, USW

“Brexit made everything times more difficult. Flights are more expensive, paperwork is just never-ending, attitude is different. I now consider myself very lucky. In 2018, the year I applied to study in USW, it was fairly easy to do so. What I liked about it is that even someone like me, who doesn’t come from a wealthy background, could afford to study abroad.

Here I received opportunities I’d have never experienced, had I stayed in Bulgaria. I met people from cultures I had only seen on TV. I’ve met and worked alongside professionals in the journalism industry and recently completed a work placement at the BBC. I feel sorry for those who will never get this chance because of Brexit.”

Carol Bandres, 22, from Portugal, enrolled to Performance and Media at USW during Lockdown:

“My first year was the worst one. I couldn’t meet anyone from my class, almost everything was online, so I never really noticed a change. And still, along these 3 years, I haven’t met many EU students.

I would’ve liked to have more EU students, but it is what it is, and I think we all understand why. My plans haven’t changed at all, I still want to keep going with theatre here in the UK. I applied to study though the settlement scheme. Brexit doesn’t really bother me, I hated it in the beginning because of paperwork but now it’s fine.

Carol Bandres at the Atrium, University of South Wales

My friends don’t want to come here anymore because it’s become so difficult. Plus we are not eligible for maintenance loans, I must work part-time to afford to study here.

If friends of mine want to come to visit me, they must get a passport, that would be the only problem. And getting it is easy for me because I was born in the U.K., even though I moved to Portugal when I was five.

I’m staying in the U.K. at least for more 3 years and, after that, I don’t know what is going to happen.”

Nadezhda Bratanova, 25, completed her studies with Bachelors and Masters in International Journalism at Cardiff University. Today, she leads a successful career as a financial journalist at one of the most prestigious companies – ‘With. Intelligence’, in one of their offices based in Cardiff with recent offers expanding to relocation in New York and California.

Nadezhda Bratanova outside of the Cardiff University Library for Journalism students

“I was not planning on studying in the UK, yet the application process was easy and accessible enough to give it a try. I was not particularly affected by Brexit since by the time it happened I had already applied for a settlement status. I wouldn’t say that it would have any implications on my future. As a journalist, I believe the opportunity set in the UK suits my career goals for now. However, I remain open to positions abroad and relocation.”

Vojteh Voves, 22, second year, Photography student at USW shared:
“Of course Brexit influenced me. Travel conditions are luckily the same for now, but I feel the price increases on important stuff. Shipping to, and from the EU is way more expensive, which makes it so much harder for parents to send us our favourite foods or things we need.
There is a big uncertainty with MA studies for us because nobody knows what the conditions will be next year. Whatever it goes to, it’ll be impossible for EU students to come study in the UK. Which will hurt the country too – having less international students and workers.. “

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