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UK Government Says It Won’t Cut off Loans to EU Students—At Least Not Immediately

The Famous University Town Of CambridgeThe Famous University Town Of Cambridge
A student walks through St John's College on March 13, 2012 in Cambridge, England. Photograph by Dan Kitwood Getty Images

In the lead-up to the U.K.’s European Union referendum last week, U.K. university leaders were among the most adamant about remaining in the EU. A ‘Leave’ vote, many argued, could upend British higher education by treating students from EU nations the same as other international students instead of as near-equals to Brits themselves. That change could hike tuition for EU students and cut them off from the U.K.’s generous loan terms, effectively serving as a deterrent for such pupils considering pursuing a British education.

The first step toward university leaders’ worst-case scenario did indeed play out last week, when U.K. citizens—in a historic and stunning decision—voted to leave the European Union. The outcome caused nothing short of chaos in the U.K. on Friday and over the weekend, as Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon threatened another independence referendum, and global markets took a collective nosedive.

But in the midst of that confusion, U.K. universities and EU students got some reassurance. Jo Johnson, the minister of state for universities and science, told current EU students and those enrolling in the fall that the terms of their financial aid would not change for the duration of their degree program even with the Leave campaign’s victory on Thursday.

Under the EU’s “free movement” principal, students from member countries have the same access to universities in the U.K. as Brits themselves. They apply the same way, pay the same tuition (now some £9,000 per year), and rely on the same U.K. loan facilities, whose terms—that borrowers only have to pay back loans once they reach annual earnings of £21,000—are generous, at least compared to U.S. standards. There was a fear that if the U.K. exited the EU, students from other EU nations would lose those privileges and be thrust into the same pool as other international students who face higher tuition fees and don’t enjoy the same right of access to the U.K.’s loan program.

Of the 2.3 million students who attended U.K. universities across all levels in the 2014-2015 school year, 436,585, or about 19%, came from other countries—EU member states and other nations. Within that subset, 28.5%, or 124,575, were from EU states outside the U.K.

Johnson’s comments on Monday inform current and new EU students that they’ve effectively locked in tuition and financing that will not change as they pursue their degrees regardless of how the U.K. redraws its ties to the bloc.

There was some uncertainty following the outcome of Thursday’s vote, said Joseph Potts, a press officer at the U.K. Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Johnson’s tweet was sent to dispel the concerns of current students, but it’s not known what will happen to EU students in the longer term, Potts says.

The Student Loans Company, the government-owned entity that doles out student financing in the U.K., also issued a statement saying that any EU nationals who have been assessed as eligible to receive loans or grants “will continue to receive these loans and grants until they finish their course.”

Simon Gaskell, president and principal of Queen Mary University of London, told Fortune prior to the referendum that he’d made a similar indemnity to EU students enrolled in his institution and those who were considering applying; that their tuition would stay at £9,000 annually no matter what.

“There are a lot of knowns,” Gaskell says. Making his promise to EU students, he says, was “the only thing in my power.”