According to Ucas which administers university admissions, the number of EU students applying for places on some of the most sought-after courses in the UK’s leading universities has dropped by 9%. The data applies to a limited number of courses with an earlier application deadline of 15 October.
The data was published on Thursday and relates to applications for all courses at Oxford and Cambridge universities, as well as applications for medicine, dentistry and veterinary courses elsewhere, beginning in September 2017.
Medical schools appear to have been particularly hard hit in the 2017 cycle, with their EU applicant total dropping by 16.1 per cent, from 2,050 to 1,720.
Cambridge University reported a decline in applications from EU students, down from 2,652 last year to 2,277 this year, in the context of an overall increase in applications to 16,875.
The marked decline in interest from EU students is likely to lead to fears about the damaging impact of the Brexit vote on UK’s universities.
A university spokesperson said: “We are disappointed to see a reduction in EU undergraduate application numbers on last year, which reflects the considerable uncertainty felt by these students due to the EU referendum. But we still received more applications from the EU this year than we did in 2012, and Cambridge remains an attractive place for EU students to study.”
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said the full picture would only become clear after the main January deadline, which usually makes up 90% of total applications. She said that the decline in applications was probably due to uncertainty over government financial support for EU students.
“This fall does, however, highlight the importance of ensuring that prospective European applicants are made fully aware of the fees and financial support arrangements well in advance of the applications window,” she said.
“The Ucas process for accepting applications for 2017 opened on 6 September but the government guarantee on fees and financial support for EU students for 2017 entry was not provided until 11 October, only days before the October deadline.”
The government had issued the statement reassuring EU students hoping to begin their studies next year that they would continue to be entitled to the same terms and conditions as home students, with £9,000 fees and access to the student loan book for the duration of their studies.
Many in the sector complained the intervention was too late and are now urging the government to eliminate future uncertainty for potential students from Europe by extending the offer further.
“To avoid future uncertainty, we need the government to extend these transitional arrangements now for EU students considering applying for courses starting in 2018. These prospective European students will soon be starting to consider whether to apply to study at British universities,” Nicola said.
The 9% decline brings to an end the recent trend for increasing numbers of EU applications to UK universities. Numbers applying for courses governed by the 15 October deadline have dropped by 620 to a total of 6,240 – reversing an 8% increase at the same point last year and a return to 2015 levels.
Contrary to the overall trend, Oxford University has seen a 1% increase in applications from EU students and a 4% increase overall to more than 20,000 for 2017 entry, with international applications up too.
A spokesperson said: “While there has been understandable uncertainty around the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU, we are confident that students from the EU continue to see Oxford as a welcoming and attractive option for undergraduate study.”
On the other hand, the total number of applications for the 15 October deadline was 57,190, up 1 per cent year-on-year. Applications from the UK increased by 2.9 per cent, while applications from outside the EU rose by 0.6 per cent. The figures for international students held up, despite uncertainty about future visa arrangements and warnings from the Home Office of a clampdown.
A government spokesperson said: “It is too early in the application cycle to predict reliable trends. But the overall increase in applicant numbers is positive – and suggests even more students will be able to benefit from higher education next year.”
Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas chief executive, also welcomed the overall increase in applications. “This is an encouraging increase in applicants to the October deadline courses, particularly given the 2% decrease in the 18-year-old population. We will be watching the numbers of EU applications in the run-up to the January deadline, especially now that the government has confirmed arrangements for continuing access to student loans for 2017 courses.”
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said the latest Ucas figures were broadly back in line with where they were in 2014. “While it is too early to know the reasons for the decline, we would be concerned if EU students were deterred from applying to our world-class universities because of Brexit.”