By Cameron McIntosh
The number of EU students enrolling at Durham University has continued to increase despite Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, Palatinate has learned.
The most recent census statistics published by the University reveal that 1,354 European Union students call Durham home this year, an increase of 147 since 2015-16. As a result, EU students now comprise 7.5% of Durham’s student population, including over 13% of students enrolled in postgraduate courses.
These findings emerge over 18 months since Britain voted to leave the European Union in a landmark referendum held in June 2016. Concerns about the status of EU citizens living and studying in the UK were raised during the referendum campaign and reiterated by the higher education sector in the immediate aftermath of the historic result.
It was disclosed by a parliamentary Brexit committee last year that EU applications to British universities had decreased by 7% since the referendum, the first drop in nearly a decade. However, the latest figures seen by Palatinate suggest that Brexit has not had a discernible impact on Durham’s EU admissions.
Durham University’s Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, Professor Alan Houston, welcomed the publication of the statistics. He told Palatinate: “Durham is consistently ranked as one of the world’s leading universities. We hope that Durham will continue to be an attractive destination for EU staff and students following the UK’s exit from the European Union.
“The number of undergraduate applications from EU students is comparable to this stage last year, so we do not believe Brexit is damaging our recruitment of EU students.”
Furthermore, despite fears of a ‘brain-drain’ among university academics following Britain’s decision to leave the EU, the University – which, on the day the UK triggered Article 50, announced it would lobby for EU students’ rights – does not believe the referendum result to have adversely impacted its ability to attract members of staff.
President of the Young European Movement Durham, Valentin John, responded with caution to the new statistics. After pointing out that Brexit was yet to take effect, he went on to cite the “good reputation” of British universities and the value of English as “the most spoken language in the EU” as the principal explanations for why Brexit is yet to impact Durham’s admissions figures.
“I would expect a decline after the initial leaving, if the conditions for EU citizens worsen. That means that a soft Brexit would have little impact, whereas a hard Brexit would be devastating.”
Valentin added: “Why should any European come any more, if the student fees increase […] and British universities are excluded from EU funding?”
The Durham student, who is originally from Germany, pointed to the heavy reliance of research projects on funding from Brussels, saying: “British universities won’t become more attractive if they receive less money.”
A soft Brexit would have little impact, whereas a hard Brexit would be devastating
Furthermore, Valentin spoke of the ambiguities about the future of Erasmus programmes and gave examples of concerns raised among Durham’s EU community about their futures in post-Brexit Britain, including one student worried about his ability to finish a PhD in Durham.
Finally, Valentin called for “more clarity” from universities and in particular, he urged them to offer assurances regarding EU student fees and Erasmus funding upon the UK’s departure.
Although Britain is yet to formally leave the political and economic union, negotiations between the British government and the EU recently progressed to the second phase and the scheduled date of departure is set for the 29th March 2019.
We plan to increase our student population to a maximum of 21,500 by 2027
The newly published data also reveals that the proportion of students from the UK has once more decreased relative to international students. Just over 70% of Durham students are currently registered as Home students, which represents a 10% decrease in the last decade. The University further confirmed its commitment to expanding the size of the student body, which currently totals 18,013.
“We plan to increase our student population to a maximum of 21,500 by 2027. This will include an increase in the number of UK students, as well as non-UK students.
“This follows an increase in home students of about 1,000 (8%) over the last decade,” stated Professor Houston.
A 13% increase in the proportion of BME students at Durham since 2007/08
Last summer, the University’s newly appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global), Professor Clare O’Malley, pledged to increase the proportion of international students at the University to 35%.
In terms of ethnic diversity, 27.1% of Durham’s students are now from the Black or Minority Ethnic (BME) community, compared to 71.5% of students who are White, representing a 13% increase in the proportion of BME students at Durham since 2007/08.
Photograph: Ed Everett via Flickr