Fall in EU student numbers

04 January 2019

New data collected from Russell Group universities in December 2018 suggest there has been a 3% decrease in the number of EU students enrolling on courses this academic year (2018/19), with the biggest drop in post-graduate research courses.

The previous academic year, 2017/18, showed marginal growth in overall EU student numbers, at an average of 1%. This contrasts with the healthy growth reported in preceding years: data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) showed growth in the number of EU students enrolling at Russell Group universities was 5%, 4%, 4% and 7% in each consecutive year between 2012/13 and 2016/17 (latest available data).

The decrease in EU students starting courses at Russell Group universities in 2018/19 is most striking at postgraduate level. While there was a marginal increase of 1% at the undergraduate level, there was a 5% drop in the number of EU postgraduate taught students (for example, those taking taught masters) and a 9% decrease in the number of EU postgraduate research students (for example, PhD students).

Commenting on the data, Senior Policy Analyst Dr Hollie Chandler said:

“Russell Group universities are fantastic study destinations, with strong global appeal. However, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that EU student enrolments are down, on average.

“It’s fair to assume that uncertainty over Brexit and the UK’s future relationship with Europe could be a significant factor. The drop in postgraduate research courses is especially troubling – these students contribute directly to the UK’s research capacity.

“If we leave the EU without a deal, the uncertainty felt by prospective European students will only get worse.”



The Russell Group has also signed a joint letter to MPs outlining the risks of a No Deal Brexit with UUK, Guild HE, Million Plus and University Alliance.

  • These are aggregate data. Growth in EU-domiciled students varies by institution and level of study.
  • These data relate to new enrolments, rather than applications or acceptances.
  • These data include EU-domiciled (excluding UK) students from 23 of the 24 Russell Group universities. Analysis of postgraduate taught and postgraduate research students was performed on data from 22 Russell Group universities

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