The tomato aisle in Tesco is certainly not the only place where students might be able to feel the damaging effects of the Brexit deal. The United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union was a seismic event that sent ripples permeating a multitude of aspects of our daily lives as students. As an implication of the deal, EU students who do not already live in the UK with settled or pre-settled status don’t have access to home fees or student finance any longer. As the benefits of studying in the UK suddenly disappeared for EU students, the decline in their numbers has had an unforeseen consequence on student social life. While Warwick University was once a vibrant hub for diverse European cultures, this is no longer the case, as European societies are struggling to survive due to a lack of membership.
The UK experienced a 30% decline in the number of Romanian students who submitted applications for undergraduate studies
How bad is this really?
UCAS data shows that the number of applications submitted by European students fell by 40% in the first year post-Brexit. Even the number of European academic staff declined for the second consecutive year in 2021–22 (down 0.3%), marking the first period of decline since 2004–05 (HESA Staff Record, 2022).
Before the Brexit deal, half of the top 10 countries of origin for international students in the UK were dominated by European states, with Italy, France, Romania, Spain, and Germany occupying the last 5 positions. Up to 2020, all the countries experienced a slow growth in the number of students who were leaving to pursue further education in the UK. However, after Brexit, the numbers suddenly plummeted, and the UK experienced a 30% decline in the number of Romanian students who submitted applications for undergraduate studies. The same is true for many other European states such as Poland (26%), Germany (19%), Italy (23%) and France (16%).
What does this mean?
European societies that once thrived are now struggling to survive
One noticeable consequence of this decline in EU student enrolment is the death of many European societies at universities. These societies serve as a vital cultural bridge that aims to bring students from many European countries together to celebrate their history, share their experiences, and create a welcoming environment far away from home. The decline in EU students has directly led to a decrease in membership and activities of all of these societies.
Unfortunately, Warwick has experienced firsthand the consequences of the diminishing numbers of EU students. European societies that once thrived are now struggling to survive. The number of members of most Eastern European societies halved over the past academic years since Brexit. The situation gets even worse, as the recent premature death of the Romanian Society is a stark example of the consequences of this trend. The absence of such societies erodes the opportunities for students to engage in cultural exchange and alienates European students from the wider university community.
“As the last Social Secretary of the Romanian Speaking Society before its closure, this decline has caused a real tragedy. The closure of the society due to a lack of people means the loss of a culture [at the University]. It strips us of the unique opportunity of interacting with people who share the same values and traditions and uniting to celebrate the same events. In the long run, this will certainly create a feeling of isolation as students will not be able to find other nationals that they can relate to and share their experiences.”
What can we do?
The decline in EU student enrolment and subsequent reduction in European society memberships pose a great challenge to all of us. To prevent the further demise of these societies, universities should consider innovative ways to keep them alive and relevant, such as virtual events, collaborative initiatives with other societies, and targeted outreach efforts to engage both EU and non-EU students, as these can all help foster a sense of community and maintain the vibrant cross-cultural exchanges these societies provide.