EEA students in colleges

Brexit means changes to how EU nationals can study in colleges from 2021. The two key changes relate first to immigration and secondly to fees and funding. There is no official data on the number of EU27 nationals in colleges - the sector used to collect nationality data via the Individual Learner Record (ILR) but it was unreliable and the collection has been discontinued. AoC estimates that the numbers might be around 40,000 (2%) but this is very much a guess. 

The UK’s departure from the EU brings an end to freedom of movement between the UK and the EU and sees the introduction of a single set of immigration rules (the 'points-based system') from 2021 which covers EEA and non-EEA nationals. This means that:

  • EEA* nationals who are already resident in the UK in 2020 can apply for EU Settled Status until 30 June 2021.
  • EU nationals arriving for the first time after 1 January 2021 will need to come through the new immigration rules.
  • EEA nationals wishing to study will either need to have EU settled status, study whilst visiting (subject to limits on time) or to obtain a student visa.
*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 

Colleges wishing to enrol newly-arrived EEA nationals from 2021 need to consider whether they will require a Student sponsor licence (formerly 'Tier 4' licence). Government guidance about applying for a Student sponsor licence is available here. The key points to note are: 

  • Colleges in England require a 'Good' or 'Outstanding' Ofsted grading to meet the educational oversight criteria required of Student sponsors. 
  • From January 2021, students applying from within the EU who wish to take courses of longer than 6 months' duration (e.g. A levels, HNDs) will need to apply through the Student visa route.
  • Colleges may not need a Student sponsor licence if they only intend to recruit students from the EEA (and the rest of the world) to courses of shorter than 6 months' duration. Current regulations permit short-term study for international students at educational institutions listed by Ofsted and OfS.
  • The Home Office plans to phase out travel to the UK on national identity cards (from 1 October 2021 except for EEA nationals with Settled Status)

Fees & funding
For the 2021-22 academic year, the Department for Education (DfE) will change funding eligibility rules for EEA students. This will apply to new starts arriving from the EU. The key points for colleges are:

  • The official announcement was made by Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, on 23 June 2020 in a written statement to Parliament. 
  • From 1st August 2021 in England, EEA nationals will no longer be eligible for Home fee status, for higher education student support, for further education funding for those aged 19+ and apprenticeships.
  • The changes will not affect EEA students or apprentices who start courses or apprenticeships in academic year 2020/21.
  • The changes will not affect Irish Nationals or EEA nationals benefitting from citizen’s rights arrangements, respectively.
  • ESFA will update the adult education budget and apprenticeship funding rules for 2021/22 in line with their standard timelines (i.e. spring 2021).
  • 16-19 year-olds from the EEA sponsored through the student visa route will be considered fee-paying and not eligible for public funding in England.

Colleges should continue to carry out right to study checks in the same way as now until 30 June 2021. Colleges will need to phase in adjustments to account for changes to the new immigration system and funding eligibility for EEA nationals. This should be planned for with the colleges's international, MIS and student services teams. For example, college fee assessment processes may need to be reviewed ahead of the 2021/22 academic year. Ultimately, and to ensure colleges avoid discrimination or charging fees unnecessarily, processes will need to ensure:

  • EEA nationals with Settled Status or benefitting from citizens' rights remain eligible for Home fees from August 2021.
  • EEA nationals aged 16-19 who have the legal right to reside in the UK (e.g. as dependants) are eligible for Home fees from August 2021.