Last month the House of Commons voted to delay the deadline of closing a Brexit-deal for another couple of months due to the continuous disagreements about its content. This means another couple of months of uncertainty for British and EU-citizens. For instance, British students that study in The Netherlands still do not know the amount of tuition fees they will have to pay for their upcoming academic years. This article focuses on the legal background of the uncertainty surrounding tuitions fees for British students who want to study in EU-member states.
Studying in other EU-countries falls within the rights of free movement, more specifically, under article 21 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the Free Movement Directive (Directive 2004/38/EC). Consequently, you will be allowed to study and have the right of residence in another Member State if you have comprehensive sickness insurance cover in the host Member State and you can assure this state that you have sufficient resources to not become a burden on the social assistance system during the period of residence. Once you comply to these requirements, the host Member State has to reassure they will not charge higher tuition fees for students from other Member States (see Article 24 of Directive 2004/38/EC). Therefore, British students pay the same amount of tuition fees as Dutch students at this moment. Those rights of free movement will still be applicable until the end of the transition period.1 The transition period is the period between ‘Brexit day’ and the 31st of December 2020. However, what happens when the transition period ends?
First of all, there is not a deal yet. At this moment, Parliament is not satisfied with the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Government and the EU.2 It is up to prime-minister May to create a compromised deal that satisfies both Parliament and the EU. Considering, such a deal does not exist at this moment, discussing its content is difficult.
What kind of possibilities are there on this particular subject? One possibility is that the UK would become a member of the European Economic Area. In this instance the rights of free movement will remain, including the applicability of the Free Movement Directive. However, this is highly unlikely as one of the main reasons people voted for Brexit was the applicability of the Free Movement Directive.3
At this moment equal treatment of students from different EU-Member States, only happens because of the single market we all participate in. With the single market – and the rights of free movement – gone, the basis for this treatment is also gone. Therefore, the UK and the EU-Member States will have to create a new basis in their negotiations to continue the equal treatment of British and EU students.
“One possibility is that the UK would become a member of the European Economic Area.”
The Political Declaration, which holds the agreements between the EU and the UK about the relationship between them after the transition period has ended, cannot provide much clarity yet. Since the British Labour party has already condemned the Declaration as too vague, the document will probably be up for extensive alternations.4 However, there might be some hope for now as you could read a possible basis for equal treatment of UK and EU students in agreement 53 of the Political Declaration.5
“However, there might be some hope for now as you could read a possible basis for equal treatment of UK and EU students in agreement 53 of the Political Declaration.”
In case of a No-deal Brexit, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok ensures that British students who are already studying in The Netherlands, will be able to continue doing so under the same conditions that were applicable before Brexit.6
If you have not yet started following a course of study before the transition period has ended, the conditions – to which you have to comply – change. At that moment, British citizens are no longer EU-citizens, meaning the Free Movement Directive is no longer applicable. In that case, The Netherlands, or any other EU-Member state for that matter, don’t have to equate British and Dutch students in their university admission. Consequently, that might result in way higher tuition fees for British students, even up to 32.000 euros per academic year.
Moreover, the Dutch government will not be legally bound anymore to acknowledge British diplomas as sufficient enough for a university admission. Although, in my opinion it would be hard to defend to invalidate British diplomas after tolerating them successfully for years.
Unfortunately, the uncertainty will remain substantial until Parliament has agreed on a deal. A no-deal Brexit will certainly lead to problems and probably way higher tuition fees for future British students in the Netherlands (as well as for EU students in the UK). Therefore, only a deal could give full clarity.
…that might result in way higher tuition fees for British students, even up to 32.000 euros per academic year.
Hidde van der Lende
1. European Commission, Memo: Questions and Answers – the rights of EU and UK citizens, as outlined in the Withdrawal Agreement, paragraph 1, url: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/2018-11-26_qa_citizens_rights_en_0.pdf.
2. P. Barnes, Brexit: What happens now?, BBC, url: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-46393399.
4. A. Sandford What’s in Theresa May’s Brexit deal and why is it so unpopular, Euronews, url: https://www.euronews.com/2018/12/07/what-is-in-theresa-may-s-brexit-deal-and-why-is-it-so-unpopular.
5. As found on https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/759021/25_November_Political_Declaration_setting_out_the_framework_for_the_future_relationship_between_the_European_Union_and_the_United_Kingdom__.pdf.
6. Kamerstukken II 2018/19, 23987, 299, p. 2.