British universities have long been the popular choice for Lithuanian students. However, the looming Brexit and upcoming funding changes may adjust the higher education trends.
Having left the European Union this year, the British government recently announced that, as of 2021, EU nationals will no longer be able to study in England's universities under the same terms enjoyed by home students.
Scotland soon followed suit, announcing that it was with a “heavy heart” ending free university tuition for EU students.
Some 1,500 Lithuanian undergraduate students are planning to enroll at British universities this year, says education consultant Aleksandras Feldmanas, the head of Study Plan International. That is about 20 percent fewer than last year.
Up to 2,000 Lithuanian students would enroll at British universities each year, according to estimates.
Those starting their studies this autumn will still be treated as home students until the end of their studies. As of 2021, however, EU students will be charged international tuition fees – ranging from 10,000 to 40,000 pounds a year – and will not be entitled to government-provided student loans.
The Lithuanian prime minister's adviser Unė Kaunaitė quotes a survey by Study.eu, has suggested that as many as 84 percent of Lithuanian graduates considering studies in the UK would be deterred if tuition fees were to rise considerably.
Current year-11 students, who are not graduating until next year, are particularly upset by the change of rules, says career consultant Rytis Jurkėnas.
However, it is likely that higher tuition fees will be accompanied by more study grants.
“If tuition is very expensive, the best students are usually offered scholarships. The same will happen in the UK – if fees increase substantially for EU graduates, there will be scholarships for our best [students],” says education consultant Žaneta Savickienė.
If not the UK, where?
If British universities become unaffordable for Lithuanian graduates, more are likely to head for the Netherlands.
“The Netherlands invested a lot of money into English programmes, and is the country offering the biggest number of courses in English in continental Europe,” according to Savickienė.
Scandinavian countries have also been popular among Lithuanians.
However, Lithuania should invest more into teaching school students other foreign languages besides English.
“We are a small country, we are in the EU, and in order to give the best career opportunities to our youth, they must speak at least several EU languages,” says Savickienė.
According to Jurkėnas, relatively few Lithuanian graduates master German or French well enough to be able to apply for universities in Germany or France.
“The current year 9 or year 10 students still have time to learn and prepare,” he says.