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EU flag over Union Jack

 by Mark Bennett
, posted on 11 Jun '19

Deal or No Deal: What Brexit Will Mean for Your Postgraduate Course


Editor's noteThis blog is regularly updated as new information emerges regarding the impact of Brexit on university students, particularly postgraduates. You can sign up to our free newsletter to hear about updates when they happen.


Whatever your position on Brexit, it’s fair to say the process hasn't been going smoothly.

There is a deal on the table, but it isn’t one that enough people can sit around. Take the deal off the table and you’re left with no deal, which also looks a lot like no table. The UK and EU have therefore agreed a new October deadline for negotiations, in order to turn the table into one of those extending tables you forget you have until too many people show up for a dinner party. And that’s where we are right now.

But you probably don’t care about my extended extending table metaphor. You want to know what Brexit will mean for the Masters or PhD you’re thinking about next year (or beyond). Will you pay the same fees? Will you be able to access the same funding? Will you need a visa?

The good news is that these questions are a lot easier to answer – and most of the answers are good, for now at least. We know a lot about what will happen for students in 2019-20 and we have a good idea of what might happen in 2020-21 and beyond. This post covers all of that. You can also jump to our Brexit FAQ for answers to more specific questions.

We’ll be adding to it as and when we learn more (so make sure you’re signed up for postgraduate-specific Brexit updates).

Postgraduate study in 2019-20

The current Brexit uncertainty is less than ideal if you’re planning on starting a Masters abroad – in the UK or EU – during the next six months or so. Thankfully, we know a fair bit about plans for the 2019-20 academic year.

If the UK and EU reach a deal, then an existing withdrawal agreement will take effect. This will start a transition period until at least the end of 2020, during which nothing will change for people studying abroad.

Masters students on one-year courses would be fully covered by this. Students on longer Masters programmes (and PhDs) would only be automatically covered for the first year of their course, after which it will be up to the UK and EU and / or individual EU countries to make decisions for 2020-21 onwards. I’ve explained what these might look like, below.

If there is a no-deal Brexit it will be up to individual countries (including the UK) to decide what rules will apply to people studying abroad next year.

EU students in the UK

Things are actually quite simple for EU students in 2019-20. If you want to start a Masters or PhD in the UK as an EU student next year you can, thanks to a set of guarantees.

You won’t need a visa. You’ll pay the same ‘domestic’ fees as a UK student. And you’ll have access to the same funding you did when the UK was an EU member: including Masters loans, PhD loans and Research Council studentships.

These guarantees supersede the withdrawal agreement and transition period: they apply with or without a deal and last for the entire length of your degree, whatever happens with Brexit.

UK students in the EU

The EU can’t make the same guarantees as the UK (there are 27 other EU countries and they all have their own policies on higher education). What happens next really depends on whether there’s a deal between the UK and the EU:

  • If there is a deal then the withdrawal agreement comes into effect. UK students will be covered by it until the end of 2020 (with no changes to fee, funding and visa terms).
  • If a no-deal Brexit occurs, each country will have to make its own decisions about the rights of UK students.

Generally speaking, guarantees are in place for UK citizens who already live abroad in Europe (or will do when Brexit happens).

The recent extension of Article 50 (giving the UK and EU until the end of October to negotiate a deal) also means that students starting courses in autumn 2019 will already have begun studying before a no-deal Brexit can occur. Fees for existing students are unlikely to change, but it may still be a good idea to check with your university.

It isn’t as clear what the terms will be for UK students arriving to study in the EU after a no-deal Brexit. The following table is a simplified round-up of what each ‘EU 27’ country has declared so far:


What a No-Deal Brexit Means for UK Students in the EU
Austria UK students would be treated as third-country citizens. Further information
Belgium Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Bulgaria Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Croatia Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Cyprus Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Czech Republic Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Denmark Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Estonia Guarantees are planned for existing residents. Incoming students would be treated as third country citizens. Further information
Finland UK students would be treated as third-country citizens. Further information
France Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Germany Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Greece Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Hungary Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Ireland Existing fee and funding arrangements will continue to apply. Further information
Italy Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Latvia Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Luxembourg Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Lithuania Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Malta Guarantees are planned for existing residents. Incoming students would be treated as third country citizens. Further information
Netherlands Guarantees are planned for existing residents. Incoming students would be treated as third country citizens. Further information
Poland Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Portugal Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Romania Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Slovakia Guarantees are planned for existing residents. Incoming students would be treated as third country citizens. Further information
Slovenia Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information
Spain UK students would be treated as third-country citizens. Further information
Sweden Guarantees are planned for existing residents. The status of incoming students isn't confirmed. Further information

This information only applies in the event of a no-deal Brexit (or, as EU countries like to call it, a ‘disorderly exit’). It’s also an attempt to quickly summarise (and, in some cases, simplify) each country’s current legislation and declarations. I’d strongly recommend you follow the links above for further information if you’re considering studying abroad in the EU next year.

Basically, if you’re already living in the EU and you want to study a Masters or PhD next year, you might not be immediately affected by a no-deal Brexit. If you’re planning to move to the EU for a postgraduate course, you really should get in touch (and stay in touch) with your university to see what their policies are.

Postgraduate study in 2020-21 (and beyond)

So, things are (relatively) clear for next year, but what if you’re planning further ahead and thinking of a Masters or PhD abroad in the UK or EU from 2020-21 onwards?

Well, there's already been some good news for EU students in the UK as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have now all extended their fee and funding guarantees to 2020-21 starters.

When it comes to what happens for UK students in other parts of the EU though and what happens beyonw 2020-21, we're left with informed guesswork. The UK and EU don’t yet know what kind of arrangement might (or might not) be reached after Brexit. And I certainly don’t. But I can outline some possible scenarios.

Scenario #1 – Nothing changes straight away for 2020-21

The UK has already offered guarantees to EU students starting courses 'after Brexit' in 2020-21, so it just depends whether EU countries will reciprocate this.

This would be more likely if a deal was reached and the transition period came into effect. In this case the current fee, funding and visa terms would apply until the end of 2020 anyway and it would make sense to extend them to the full 2020-21 academic year. Otherwise, someone starting a degree in autumn 2020 would be left in an awkward position after Christmas.

You might say it makes sense for EU countries to offer these guarantees, rather than pull the rug out from under students already at their universities. I can’t guarantee this will happen (and we’re both a bit tired of the word ‘guarantee’ now). But it seems sensible. For what that’s worth.

Scenario #2 – Specific countries negotiate their own terms

You can think of this as the ‘good’ version of a no-deal Brexit (at least so far as students are concerned).*

Assuming the withdrawal agreement doesn’t take effect, the UK and EU members would default to regarding each other as ‘third countries’ with no special relationship or privileges. UK students in the EU would then be classed as international students and so, presumably, would EU students in the UK from 2021-22 onwards.

However! It’s possible that the UK could make specific arrangements with some EU countries and guarantee their students’ ongoing rights in return for a reciprocal arrangement. This is purely speculative and would involve some politics, but there’s nothing to say it couldn’t happen.

*This blog doesn’t take a view on whether Brexit itself is good or bad, but I do think it’s safe to say that continued access to favourable study abroad terms is the best outcome for students.

Scenario #3 – UK and EU citizens become international students

This is the ‘worst’ outcome for students. It could happen in 2021-22 onwards if there was a no-deal Brexit or if the UK and EU failed to reach a long-term agreement during the transition period.

In these cases the UK and EU would default to ‘third country’ relations and students would be treated in the same way as non-EU ‘international students’ are now. This normally means paying higher fees, requiring a visa or residence permit to study abroad and losing at least some access to funding.

How bad this is depends on where you’re from and where you want to study. It’s true that international fees are a lot higher in the UK, but EU countries don’t always charge more to non-EU students (some don’t actually charge anything).

Scenario #???

There are other potential scenarios, of course:

Guarantees might not be extended beyond the transition period. The UK and EU might decide to somehow ‘ring fence’ student mobility from other post-Brexit changes. Brexit might be postponed or cancelled. A snap election might lead to the Prime Minister of the UK being replaced by Larry the Downing Street cat, with a new policy agenda focussing entirely on mandatory catflaps, garden ponds and the abolition of the RSPB.

These are all possibilities (except the last one), but they’re not as likely as the three scenarios above.

All I can say at this point is that we’ll know more about what Brexit means for students eventually and we will do our best to explain it and update you when the time comes.

FAQs about Brexit and postgraduate study

I’ve tried to make the information above as clear as possible and that’s meant leaving aside some other questions on topics like Erasmus, specific funding eligibility and post-study work. 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 can Brexit actually change for students?

EU membership means that you are treated exactly the same as a home student when studying in another EU country: you pay the same fees, have access to most of the same funding and don’t need a visa.

For postgraduates, EU membership also helps with accreditation and qualification of previous degrees and can mean you don’t have to sit the same entrance exams as international students sometimes do.

Unless other arrangements are reached (as described on this page) Brexit would mean that UK students lose access to these benefits when studying in the EU (and vice versa).

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 2019-20 or 2020-21.

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. It’s possible for the UK to ‘rejoin’, but it would have to pay to do so. You should check in advance if you are planning on applying for Erasmus funding for your Masters as a UK student in the EU or an EU student in the UK.

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. It’s also unlikely that European universities would change arrangements for UK students partway through a degree programme (though you should be able to check this if you’re concerned).

Can EU citizens remain in the UK after Brexit? / Can UK citizens remain in the EU after Brexit?

In most cases, yes. The UK and EU have agreed that citizens living abroad prior to Brexit date will retain their rights to do so, subject to registration processes. EU citizens in the UK will also be able to apply for 'settled status' after they have been living in the country for five years.

However, it's not completely clear how these rulings will apply to people who have only been abroad to study. We'd recommend you check details carefully before making long-term plans. Further information is available on the UK Government website.

When will Brexit actually happen?

This isn’t exactly clear right now. The UK was due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 but has been granted an extension until the end of October. This provides more time to attempt to agree on a deal. If negotiations are unsuccessful, a no-deal Brexit is due to take place at the end of the extension period.

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 won't be 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

You can also get in touch with us using editor[at]findaphd.com if there's something you're not sure about. I can't promise we'll have the exact answer (my PhD was in English Literature, not Brexit) but we'll do our best to help with questions about postgraduate study.




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