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EU-UK talks could roll back Brexit barriers for young people


European Commission proposal includes British universities cutting tuition fees and lower immigration costs

The European Commission has proposed talks with the British government on freeing up cross-border movement for young people, including dropping tuition fees for EU students studying in the UK to domestic levels.

The move would partially remove barriers erected after Brexit, which have seen a major decrease in the movement of young people between the UK and EU.

On 18 April, the Commission said it had asked the EU’s member states to approve the opening of negotiations with the UK on an agreement on youth mobility. It said Brexit had “particularly affected the opportunities for young people to…benefit from youth, cultural, educational, research and training exchange”.

The Commission said it was not proposing reinstating freedom of movement, but it wants to “create a right for young people to travel from the EU to the UK and vice-versa more easily, and for a longer period of time”.

The proposed agreement would enable EU and UK citizens aged between 18 to 30 to stay for up to four years in a destination country, with permission for UK citizens limited to a single EU member state.

Tuition fee condition

The Commission’s proposal would require some major concessions from the UK government.

“The envisaged agreement would provide for equal treatment of EU and UK students as regards higher education tuition fees,” the Commission said, on the basis that tuition fees in EU public universities are generally not as high as those charged by UK universities for international students.

After Brexit, UK universities were able to charge students from the EU much higher international rates for tuition. The British Council estimates international fees to average £22,200 per year, compared with a maximum of £9,250 for domestic students.

Enrolment by EU students at UK universities fell by 51 per cent in 2021-2022 compared with 2019-20, according to data from the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency.

Reduced immigration costs

The Commission also wants young people coming to the UK from the EU not to be subject to “disproportionate or excessive” visa fees, including not paying the health surcharge required by the UK government to access the NHS.

The UK government has recently hiked up immigration costs, including the health surcharge, as part of efforts to limit levels of inward migration. Universities and businesses have warned they are struggling to attract EU research talent as a result of current UK immigration policy.

With the UK already having reached out to a number of member states on youth mobility, the Commission said it was seeking to “address this matter of common concern in an EU-wide manner”.

While the UK negotiated to join the EU’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, during Brexit talks, it chose to leave the EU’s Erasmus+ student mobility programme.

The Commission said its proposal on a youth mobility agreement “could be usefully supported by a parallel discussion on the possible association of the UK to Erasmus+”.

The UK government has been approached for comment.