There has also been a sharp decline in the number of first-year students from major countries such as France and Germany choosing to start a course in the UK. Student enrolment numbers of Irish students were the only ones to hold up, due to the exceptions that apply to Irish citizens.
According to the data, there was no change in student numbers from the Netherlands, Poland and Romania in 2021: the exact figure was 1,015. That is pure coincidence, says a representative of HESA, the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency. The data are rounded to the nearest increment of five.
Some of the students who stayed away may be choosing other countries, such as the Netherlands, instead. While it is difficult to measure the impact of Brexit (the UK left the European Union in January 2020), Dutch universities saw the number of international students enrolling in undergraduate programmes increase from over 15,000 in 2020 to more than 18,000 in 2021. This outstrips the growth in student enrolment numbers recorded in previous years.
Added to this, figures released by Universities of The Netherlands show that the number of UK students choosing to study in the Netherlands has declined since 2018. By contrast, student enrolments in the Netherlands from countries such as Romania, Cyprus, Poland and Spain are increasing.
From outside the EU
At the same time, however, UK universities are attracting far more students from non-EU countries. The numbers are significant, with more students now coming to the UK from Pakistan and Nigeria than ever came from an EU country.
Furthermore, the number of Chinese students enrolled for the first year of an undergraduate or postgraduate course in the UK has been around 100,000 for several years. First-year student enrolments from India have risen sharply from 53,000 to 87,000.
Despite the influx of students from other parts of the world, the decline in EU student numbers is a cause for concern for UK universities, in terms of the pipeline of talent for the UK. The exodus of EU students also weakens the financial stability of some universities, especially in undergraduate programmes.