Skip to main content


The UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020. Following a ‘transition period’ for the remainder of 2020, a UK/EU Trade Cooperation Agreement (TCA) was signed in December 2020 which governs the current relationship.

After forty-five years in the EU, Brexit means a number of changes for colleges to adapt to. These include changes to how colleges can hire EU/EEA* staff, enrol EU/EEA students, transfer data within the EU and participate in educational exchanges. Some of the changes are taking time to come into full effect and the overall impact on colleges is likely to be less than in other areas of national life.

Since the 2016 EU membership referendum, AoC has produced a range of resources to help colleges with the UK’s transition out of the EU. These pages outline the main Brexit implications for colleges:

  • Immigration & the EU
  • Employment & the EU
  • Exchanges
  • Fees & funding
  • Structural funds
  • GDPR & data transfer
  • Other implications

Please contact Emma Meredith, International Director if you have any questions about Brexit.

*EEA nationals here refers to EU27/other EEA/Swiss nationals benefitting from citizens’ rights under the EU Withdrawal Agreement i.e. EUSS holders, EEA EFTA Separation Agreement or Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement. The rights of Irish Nationals to study and to access benefits and services will be preserved on a reciprocal basis for UK and Irish nationals under the Common Travel Area arrangement.

Immigration & the EU

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act 2020 ended free movement law in the UK on 31 December 2020. A new UK immigration system (or ‘points-based system’) came into effect from 1 January 2021. The new system has a single set of rules and includes routes for study, work and settlement in the UK. Colleges need to be aware that there are different implications for their EU/EEA students and staff depending on whether they were in the UK before or after 31 December 2020.

EU/EEA nationals in the UK by 31 December 2020

EU/EEA nationals who were already resident in the UK by the end of 2020 had until June 2021 to apply to the EU Settled Status Scheme (EUSS). The scheme permits European nationals (including college staff and students) to continue living in the UK after Brexit. The deadline to apply to the EUSS was 30 June 2021, but there are reasonable grounds for late application (although colleges cannot provide immigration advice to individuals).

EU/EEA nationals coming from 1 January 2021

The end of freedom of movement has implications for EU/EEA nationals who do not hold EUSS (or have right of abode in the UK) and who wish to come from Europe to the UK. Such individuals wishing to study for more than six months or to work in the UK will need a visa.

EU/EEA nationals can visit the UK without a visa for stays of up to six months. Study as a visitor is permitted at accredited institutions such as colleges but work experience or work placements are not permitted. The immigration route for internships or work experience in the UK is the Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange visa which recognises major mobility programmes such as Erasmus+.

The immigration changes mean that EU/EEA nationals wishing to travel from Europe to take longer college courses such as A Levels or a HND will need a Student visa. Colleges will need to have a Student sponsor licence in order to sponsor them. Meeting the criteria for sponsorship includes holding OFSTED grade 1 or 2 and being a sponsor involves a set of ongoing compliance responsibilities.

Future travel

Both the EU and the UK plan to bring in new electronic travel authorisation systems, similar to the ESTA system currently in place in the USA. The EU will introduce its ETIAS system for non-visa nationals travelling to the Schengen area by the end of 2023. The UK will also stop accepting EU/EEA ID cards for entry (except for EUSS holders) from 1 October 2021.

AoC represents the college sector on the Home Office’s Education and Employment Advisory Groups. Please contact Emma Meredith if you have any questions relating to immigration.

Employment & the EU

The end of freedom of movement means that EU/EEA nationals who do not hold EUSS (or right of abode in the UK) and who wish to work in the UK will need a visa. There is no firm data on the proportion of EEA nationals already working in colleges, but AoC workforce surveys estimate that colleges employ an average of 20 EU nationals. This adds up to a total of 7,000 people or 4% of the college workforce. College employment is geographically dispersed with substantial numbers in relatively small towns whereas the UK's EU27 population is weighted towards bigger cities.

Hiring EU/EEA staff

From 2021, colleges are likely to need a Worker sponsor licence if they wish to hire staff from the EU/EEA who do not have EUSS or indefinite leave to remain. Colleges can apply to become a Worker sponsor and recruit staff on a Skilled Worker visa. Becoming a licensed sponsor involves a number of checks and also ongoing compliance responsibilities once the licence has been awarded. Key points to note about Skilled Worker sponsorship are:

  • Job roles must meet certain conditions to be eligible for a Skilled Worker visa, for example the minimum salary requirements in line with UK occupation codes.
  • Applicants applying for Skilled Worker sponsorship must prove they have B1 level English language skills.
  • Colleges may have to pay the Immigration Skills Charge each time they sponsor a worker.

There are other UK employment routes for overseas nationals, such as the Intra-Company transfer and the new Graduate Route, which allows international degree holders who completed their studies in the UK to stay on and work for two years.

Right to work checks & safeguarding rules

Right to work checks for EU/EEA nationals in the UK did not change until 1 July 2021, after the EUSS application deadline closed. There was a ‘grace period’ from 1 January to 30 June 2021. From 1 July 2021, EU/EEA citizens and their family members require immigration status in the UK and can no longer rely on an EEA passport or national identity card to prove their right to work. There is no requirement for employers to undertake retrospective checks on EU/EEA citizens who entered into employment up to 30 June 2021. From 1 July 2021 EU/EEA citizens granted status under the EUSS will usually prove their right to work using the Home Office online right to work service. They will provide employers with a ‘share code’ enabling their immigration status to be checked online.

The UK’s departure from the EU also has some safeguarding implications because the UK no longer has access to certain EU databases. DfE’s guidance on safe recruitment of education staff is covered within Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE).

AoC is working with our legal partners Irwin Mitchell to provide employment guidance and information on the impact of Brexit. Please see our employment webpages for more detail.


The UK’s participation in EU programmes has changed since Brexit. One of the key differences is that the UK is not part of the EU’s Erasmus+ Programme 2021-27 for student and staff mobility. Instead, on Christmas Eve 2020, the UK Prime Minister announced a ‘domestic alternative’ to Erasmus+ for the UK, the Turing Scheme.


Over 100 UK colleges received Erasmus+ funding during the 2014-2020 programme cycle. Colleges have used funding to provide work and study placements in Europe for students and CPD opportunities for staff. The Withdrawal Agreement guaranteed funding for approved Erasmus+ projects, including those led by a UK partner, for the remainder of the 2014-2020 programme cycle and for the full duration of projects. This means that some colleges will still have Erasmus+ activity for a couple more years, as they complete projects that began in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

UK colleges can still engage with Erasmus+ going forward. The 2021-27 Programme Guide outlines that up to 20% of Erasmus+ project activity could take place with a UK partner. In principle this means that an outbound Turing project could be linked with an inbound Erasmus+ project, encouraging reciprocal partnerships.

Turing Scheme

The Turing Scheme is the new outbound mobility programme for students at UK schools, FE/TVET and HE providers. Over £100m in funding was allocated to the scheme for mobility in the 2021/22 academic year, following the UK Government’s November 2020 one-year spending review.

Like Erasmus+, Turing funds students to study, undertake work placements or participate in skills competitions overseas. It does not currently fund staff mobility except for accompanying persons, nor does it provide funding for overseas partners to come to the UK.

The first set of awards under Turing has been announced with FE in receipt of over £21m and students due to undertake visits to popular destinations including Spain, France, the USA and China.

Mobility practicalities

Colleges preparing to send students or staff on visits within the EU should note that some travel logistics are different post-Brexit. Colleges are advised to update their travel planning checklists and risk assessments accordingly. Colleges should check the FCDO guidance for each destination country and also review the latest Covid travel advice. Key points to note are:

  • EHIC cards are still valid for travel within the EU, permitting medically necessary state healthcare at a reduced cost or sometimes for free. EHIC will be replaced by GHIC over time.
  • Mobile phone roaming may be chargeable, depending on the network operator.
  • British citizens can visit countries in the Schengen area for up to 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa, although visas may be required for longer stays in Europe.
  • Some Erasmus+ participants coming to the UK from 2021 may require a visa under the Tier 5 Government Authorised Exchange scheme, for example to undertake work placements.

AoC operates a network group for member colleges that are interested in student and staff mobility. Please contact Emma Meredith for more information.

Fees & funding

Brexit means changes to how EU/EEA nationals can study in colleges from academic year 2021/22. As outlined in our Brexit immigration pages (link to above), the key factor is whether an EU/EEA national was in the UK before the end of 2020 or holds UK residency rights. The same applies to eligibility for fees and funding.

Rule changes

For the 2021/22 academic year, Department for Education (DFE) has changed funding eligibility rules for EEA students. The updated eligibility criteria only apply to new starts arriving from the EU without settlement status and in the case of the Adult education budget (AEB), to some family members of UK and EU/EEA nationals. In essence, from 1 August 2021 in England, EEA nationals will no longer be eligible for home fee status, for higher education support, for further education or for apprenticeship funding unless they have citizens’ rights, for example through EUSS.

Colleges need to adjust their admissions and enrolment systems to account for these changes whilst making sure that they do not discriminate or charge fees unnecessarily.

New guidance

College teams need to check the different pieces of funding eligibility guidance for their course provision. The rules have been updated to include eligibility for EU/EEA students:

  • 16-19 year-olds: the 2021-22 funding guidance is available here.
  • AEB: the ESFA 2021-22 funding rules are available here (please also check devolved guidance, as appropriate e.g. GLA).
  • HE: UKCISA has produced a comprehensive guide to home fees for HE in England. See also links to student finance, and SLC.

Right to study checks

The Home Office set out expectations for student sponsors regarding right to study checks for EEA nationals in its Student sponsor guidance (document 2, paragraphs 2.9-2.11). As of 1 July 2021, sponsors are expected to check that unsponsored EU and EEA nationals have an immigration status that allows them to study in the UK (subject to Covid-19 concessions on record-keeping). Retrospective checks are not required on unsuspended EU/EEA students who enrolled before 1 July 2021.

Structural funds

Brexit means changes to the infrastructure and social development funds that colleges can apply for, known as ‘structural funds’ in the EU. Prior to Brexit, UK colleges accessed the European Social Fund (ESF) to help retrain and improve the skills of thousands of people. Although colleges could continue to participate in ESF until December 2020 (as agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement) and funds will continue to be spent by local areas until 2023, funding post-Brexit will come from the new ‘UK Shared Prosperity Fund’.

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund will launch in 2022 across the UK. For 2021-22, the UK Government launched the UK Community Renewal Fund to pilot projects and to prepare for the introduction of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The long-term vision for the Fund is to help ‘level up’ and create opportunity across the UK for people and places. The Government has committed to ramping up funding so that total domestic UK-wide funding will at least match EU receipts, on average reaching around £1.5 billion a year.

GDPR & data transfer

Brexit has implications for transferring data between the UK and the EEA. It is important that colleges understand their cross-border flows of personal data and update any GDPR documentation accordingly.

AoC worked with its legal partners Irwin Mitchell to produce an advice note on post-Brexit changes to data protection and GDPR. If you are an AoC member, you can access the note here (update link to GDPR pages of AoC website)

Other implications

Brexit is likely to signify other changes to aspects of college life. For example, doing business in the EU may involve additional considerations that reflect educational regulations in individual EU member states. The UK’s trade deals with other countries might include rules, concessions or new initiatives around education and exchanges.

In terms of qualifications, much of the UK’s current framework for recognising professional qualifications derives from EU law. The Professional Qualifications Bill paves the way for new legislation to recognise professional qualifications from around the world.