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HIGHER EDUCATION

Reader question: Can children of Brits living in France attend university in the UK?

Brexit has seen a sharp increase in tuition fees for European students wanting to attend UK universities - but what about Brits living in France?

University members in black or red gowns and wearing mortar boards walking outside at Britain's Oxford University
Photo: Tolga Akmen / AFP

Reader question: We are UK nationals living in France since 2012, can our children attend a UK university without having to pay higher fees for international students?

This should be a straightforward issue but – as often with Brexit-related things – there appears to be some confusion. 

EU students – except those from Ireland – who do not have UK settled status have, as of the start of the new educational year, lost the right to pay what are known as ‘home fees’ to attend universities in the UK. They also cannot access student loans, as they had been able to do when Britain was a member of the EU.

Home fees are currently capped at £9,250, while international fees vary from institution to institution, but are routinely twice as much and can be much higher still.

Scottish universities don’t charge ‘home fees’, but international students are still required to pay. The rules on who pays and who doesn’t are the same as English and Welsh universities. 

READ ALSO REVEALED: Which French cities are most expensive for students?

The government has confirmed that UK nationals and their family members who were living in the EU, EEA or Switzerland on December 31st, 2020, will generally be eligible for home fee status, tuition fee and maintenance support for courses starting before January 1st, 2028.

They do, however, have to meet the following conditions:

  • they are living in the EEA or Switzerland on December 31st 2020 (or have moved back to the UK immediately after living in the EEA or Switzerland); and

  • they have lived in the EEA, Switzerland, the UK or Gibraltar for at least the last three years; and

  • they have lived continuously in the EEA, Switzerland, the UK or Gibraltar between December 31st, 2020, and the start of the course.

So, British students resident in France will have to pay international fees for any courses they start from 2028, despite a push from the House of Lords to increase the grace period to 15 years – which would have taken it to 2036. This rule will also apply to Irish citizens living in an EU country other than Ireland.

READ ALSO First UK students on Turing scheme head to France

These changes will apply to funding for apprenticeships and Further Education for anyone aged 19 or more.

After 2028, Britons will only pay ‘home fees’ if they have been resident in the UK for three years before the start of the course they apply for.

That’s the official line. But…

British in Europe, a coalition of grassroots citizens’ organisations and UK citizens in the EU, has found that the situation on the ground has been very different. 

In an open letter sent in June to the Westminster government’s Minister of State for Universities of the United Kingdom, Michelle Donelan, they claimed some universities have already upped their fees for all students living in the EU, including British citizens.

They also said that many students are being told that they will not qualify for UK student loans and called on the minister to act. 

READ ALSO The biggest culture shocks foreign students face in France

A survey of more than 2,500 EU students who had planned to study in the UK by the website study.eu found that the higher cost of tuition had put off 84 percent of students from applying for courses at British universities. They would opt for courses in the Netherlands, Germany or France instead.

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For members

BREXIT

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”

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