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 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 23 Jan '20

What Brexit Means for Masters Degrees, PhDs and Other Students

Whatever your feelings about Brexit, it's certainly made things more confusing for students considering studying abroad in the UK or EU during or after Brexit (and wondering how they'll fund that).

If that's you, this blog is here to help. We won't cover the full detail of the Brexit process and possible outcomes,* but we will tell you what you need to know if you're thinking of studying abroad next year (or later). Most of this information is about fees and funding for Masters degrees and PhDs, but it should be useful for all students.

*You can literally do a PhD on that.

Why Brexit matters for students

Brexit matters because it will change or replace current agreements on studying abroad between the UK and EU countries. These affect:

  • Whether you need a visa or residence permit to study abroad
  • How much you pay for your course
  • What government finance and postgraduate funding you can get from the country you go to study in

EU citizens do not need visas to study in other EU member states. They also pay the same fees and access the same funding as 'domestic students' from the country they study in. Brexit may mean that this eventually changes for EU students in the UK and UK students in the EU.

What's happening now and what it means

At the moment, the UK will formally leave the EU on 31 January 2020. There will then be a transition period until 30 December 2020, during which most rules, rights and regulations will remain the same. The UK and EU will use the transition period to negotiate future arrangements (including higher education, study mobility and fees / funding for degrees).

This leaves a number of questions for students which we've answered here in this blog:

There are also a few other frequently asked questions about Brexit and study abroad that we've answered at the end of the post.

What will happen to fees / funding for EU students in the UK in 2020-21?

You'll pay the same fees as a UK student if you come to start a Masters or PhD at a British university in the 2020-21 academic year. You'll also have access to the same funding, including Masters loans, PhD loans and some Research Council studentships.

Even when Britain leaves the EU, your fees and funding won't change.

This is because of guarantees made by the UK Government (which also apply to courses that began before 2020-21).

What will happen to fees / funding for EU students in the UK from 2021-22 onwards?

So far, UK fee and funding guarantees only cover courses that begin in 2020-21 or before. Arrangements for 2021-22 and beyond will depend on the decisions made during the transition period.

There are three possible scenarios:

  • The UK may decide to extend guarantees to cover courses starting in 2021-22 as well. So far this has happened every year since the EU Referendum in 2016. However, the UK will now have actually left the EU and may wish to negotiate a new arrangement.
  • The UK and EU may agree to preserve freedom of study after Brexit and to provide the same rights to their students in future. This is not impossible, but will depend on negotiations.
  • The UK and EU may decide to treat each others' citizens as 'third country nationals', meaning they would be treated as international students. In most countries (including the UK) this would lead to paying higher fees and losing access to some funding.

In previous years the extension of the UK fee and funding guarantee has been announced by July. Our email updates will cover any news as soon as it happens.

Will EU students need a visa to study in the UK after Brexit?

You won't need a visa to arrive in the UK as an EU citizen prior to 1 January 2021 (during the transition period). This means that you won't need a visa to start a UK Masters or PhD in 2020-21 (provided your degree begins in the autumn semester).

However, you will need to apply to the UK Government's EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK and / or finish your course after the transition period ends. You have until 20 June 2021 to do this.

Arrangements for students arriving in the UK or EU to start courses in the 2021-22 academic year and beyond will be subject to future negotiations.

What will happen to fees / funding for UK students in the EU?

The UK has provided guarantees to all students from the remaining 27 EU countries for Masters, PhDs and other courses beginning in 2020-21. But it's up to individual EU countries to decide what their policy will be for UK students studying abroad at their universities.

We've done our best to round up the current plans and announcements in the table, below.

This information applies if Brexit occurs with a deal (which is now the most likely outcome).


What Brexit Means for UK Students in the EU
Austria Guarantees apply during the withdrawal period. UK citizens will then be treated as international students. Further information
Belgium Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Bulgaria Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Croatia Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Cyprus Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Czech Republic Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22, but fees will not change.* Further information
Denmark Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Estonia Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Finland Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens will be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
France Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22 and will pay higher fees if so.** Further information
Germany Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22, but fees will not change.* Further information
Greece Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Hungary Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Ireland Existing fee and funding arrangements will continue to apply after Brexit. Further information
Italy Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Latvia Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Luxembourg Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Lithuania Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Malta Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Netherlands Guarantees apply during the withdrawal period. UK citizens may then be treated as international students. Further information
Poland Guarantees apply during the withdrawal period. UK citizens will then be treated as international students. Further information
Portugal Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Romania Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Slovakia Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Slovenia Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Spain Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information
Sweden Guarantees apply for 2020-21. UK citizens may be treated as international students from 2021-22. Further information

In most cases (but not all!) guarantees apply to UK students starting a degree in Europe next year. Be aware that these guarantees may mean different things: some EU countries may require British students to apply for some form of registration (similar to the UK's EU Settlement Scheme) before the end of the transition period. These policies may be subject to change or further information.

We'll be updating this blog when more information is available – our free newsletter will let you know when.

It's also worth bearing in mind that even if UK students are treated as international students this doesn't always mean that you'll pay higher fees: some EU countries don't actually charge more to non-EU students and some don't charge anything at all for Masters and / or PhDs.

See our guides to postgraduate study in Europe for more information on how postgraduate fees and funding work.

Other FAQs about Brexit and postgraduate study

We've tried to make the information above as clear as possible and that’s meant leaving aside some other questions. These are covered below, along with some extra clarification for anything that’s confusing about Brexit (. . .).

Some of this information is still a ‘best guess’, but it’s offered in good faith and will be updated as soon as we know more.

What does Brexit mean for Erasmus?

Masters students currently have access to Erasmus Masters Loans and Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters Degrees when studying in Europe. Access to some of this funding will depend on the UK’s membership of Erasmus.

The UK will stop automatically being an Erasmus programme country once Brexit happens. The UK Government hasn't yet confirmed whether it will rejoin Erasmus+ or take part in the Erasmus2020 successor scheme.

You should check the specific details for any Erasmus opportunity or funding you apply for next year.

Which UK postgraduate funding is affected by Brexit?

EU students in the UK currently have access to the following postgraduate funding:

All of these are guaranteed for degrees beginning in 2020-21.

Can Brexit stop me studying abroad?

No. You’ll still be able to study abroad in the UK or EU whatever happens with Brexit (as plenty of other ‘international students’ do already). It’s just that your fees, funding and entry requirements might change.

What if Brexit happens during my degree?

You’re unlikely to be affected by Brexit if you’ve already started your Masters or PhD when the UK leaves the EU.

EU students in the UK are covered by fee and funding guarantees for courses beginning before or during 2020-21. A few EU countries have indicated that they will increase fees after the transition period ends (on 1 January 2021). You should check what this could mean for your course.

When will Brexit actually happen?

The UK will leave the EU on 31 January 2020. There will then be a transition period until 30 December 2020, during which existing regulations and arrangements will apply to higher education and study abroad.

Further information

It's easy to get swamped with news, information and, of course, opinion, about Brexit.

The thing to bear in mind is that not everything you read will be relevant to students – and a lot of what is hasn't been confirmed yet.

If you are looking for good sources of further information, we'd recommend the following:

  • The PIE News – here you'll find plenty of information on international education in general, and a quick search for 'Brexit' should turn up relevant news stories and updates
  • The BBC Brexit guide – information here isn't specific to students, but it does provide a clear, simple and up-to-date 'explainer' for the ongoing Brexit process
  • The UK Government's Brexit advice – these pages summarise key information for British citizens in Europe after Brexit and some cover education

You can also get in touch with us using editor[at]findaphd.com if there's something you're not sure about. We can't explain everything about Brexit, but we will do our best to answer questions about postgraduate study.




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