‘Brexit’, the name given to the United Kingdom’s impending leave from the European Union, has and will continue to have effects not only economically, but socially too. When the vote to leave was announced, it became apparent that the majority of young people aged 18-24, particularly those studying at university, were disheartened by this result. It was estimated that nearly 75% of those voting in the 18-24 category wanted to remain as a part of the European Union.
Recent statistics show that 6.4% of all undergraduate and postgraduate students in the UK were non-UK EU nationals, meaning that the EU and EU students are a fundamentally large part of higher-education within the UK. According to the Independent, approximately £3.7 billion is generated as a result of the numerous EU students studying at UK universities and this is looking as though it could decline in the future. For instance, if large amounts of EU students choose no longer to study in the UK due to a Brexit economy and its repercussions – it could result in the raising of tuition fees for British home students. Recently, we have already seen the rise in fees from £9000 to £9250 and this could exponentially increase with a potential decline EU students studying here.
After the UK leaves the EU, the status of EU students in the UK may become ‘international’, imparting more restrictions on EU students than previously. International students currently pay significantly more fees to attend higher education in the UK and are unable to extend their stay for work following graduation. At Royal Holloway, an international student doing a BA pays roughly £13,500 in yearly tuition fees compared to the £9000 fees for UK/EU students and – following graduation, international students that want to stay and work only have four months to do so before they must leave. EU students do not have this time restraint. But, following Brexit, their graduate opportunities to stay and live here indefinitely under EU law may be reduced. Fernando M Galan Palomares, the President of the European Students Union, said that he expected student mobility between the UK and the rest of Europe to decrease dramatically as a result of these potential restrictions.
As a Danish citizen living, working and studying in the UK, it was a strange feeling for me to know that it may not be possible, or at least would be more difficult, to stay in the UK for the foreseeable future. I currently am able to study in the UK without requiring a Tier 4 student visa, utilising my freedom of movement as a part of the EU, under EU tuition fees with support from the Danish government due to my citizenship. Although tuition fee statuses are usually unlikely to change throughout your degree course, it is difficult to know at all how Brexit will affect EU fee status due to the entirely uncertain nature of it. In addition, I am able to vote, work and drive in the UK, as a Danish citizen, as any normal 18-year-old should be able to do. I am unsure what will be happen to this ability following Brexit.
However, it is not only EU students that are affected by the leave result. Many English students did not appreciate the fact that by leaving the EU, their freedom of movement to live, work, study and travel in EU countries was being restricted. Numerous English students seek jobs in their chosen fields within Europe post-graduation due to the many opportunities currently available there to broaden their horizons. Sorana Vieru, the previous vice-president of the NUS stated that she regretted that Brexit may reduce the “wide pool of graduate jobs”, for English students, that are currently available in the EU. One student at Royal Holloway also stated her belief that “after university, our opportunities have been reduced” as a result of Brexit.
One particular area of concern was the Erasmus exchange programme. Many students in the UK want to study abroad in EU countries through the Erasmus programme and Brexit could affect this and lead to the exclusion of England from the programme. The Erasmus programme has led to over 200,000 British students studying abroad in EU countries, with a 50% increase in interest over the last three years. Exclusion from the Erasmus programme would mean that British students would be unable to undertake their study abroad programmes. I personally would love to study abroad in Europe, as would many of my friends, and the possibility of being restricted from doing that is extremely dismaying. Nigel Carrington, vice chancellor of the University of the Arts, London stated that there would be difficulties in “enabling…students to study overseas” without the Erasmus exchange programme. Countries like Norway, Switzerland and Turkey continue to participate in the Erasmus programme despite not being a part of the EU due to special considerations and there are hopes that Britain will be allowed to continue to participate in the Erasmus programme as well. However, all of this is currently ‘up in the air’ as David Davis, Brexit Minister, has not guaranteed that the UK would participate in Erasmus following its impending departure from the EU. Sally Morritt, a politics and international relations student at RHUL, stated that although “we have been told that opportunities and schemes such as Erasmus won’t change as a result of Brexit”, she believes “that this has been used as an excuse to keep students quiet”.
Travel for students can also be affected following Brexit. Many students enjoy travelling during holidays and on gap-years. Having the EU as an accessible and cheap travel option is very lucrative for students due to the usual lack of funds. The cost of travel in Europe may rise, particularly as the pound dropped sharply against the Euro in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and is still very weak. Airfares for budget airlines like EasyJet, Ryanair and Monarch, are very low due to the single market, which Britain will no longer have access to after withdrawing from the EU. In addition, the restriction of freedom of movement may mean that to travel to European countries for United Kingdom passport holders may require visas, which are a traditionally costly and lengthy process. Having been interrailing this summer, I can attest to the rewarding experience that travel, and travel in Europe particularly, offers. The two friends I travelled with were both British and were able to travel throughout the EU without requiring visas. In addition, we were able to travel on cheap trains and flights throughout Europe without issue and this could now change due to Brexit.
Clearly, it is difficult for people, and students aged 18-24 in particular, to reconcile the disheartening and uncertain repercussions of Brexit with the possibilities that it originally enshrined. For me especially, I cannot foresee how Brexit will ultimately affect me and my plans to live, work and study in UK, but I just hope that it won’t be as potentially disastrous as it currently seems.