What European students think of Brexit and EU’s future

In July I attended the Political Economics summer programme at Sciences Po university in Paris. My classmates, who came from all over the world (only one was French!), were so immersed in the course that we kept exchanging opinions and ideas beyond the 6 hours of daily lessons.

As an Italian student of Journalism, Communications and Politics at Cardiff University, I often ended up talking about my experience in the UK, and Brexit would always come up in the discussion. Many students from outside the EU were wondering what impact Brexit is having on me and my education abroad. EU students, instead, shared my concerns about the future relation of the UK and the European Union (EU), particularly with regard to our ability to study in Britain.

Following the UK decision to leave the EU, the conditions under which Europeans will be able to join British universities in the future are unclear. While at present they enjoy the same rights and benefits of UK citizens, future fees, loans and visas are up for discussion.

As uncertainty bites, UCAS (UK’s Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) revealed that this year the number of EU students planning to study in the UK has fallen by 5%. Those who applied to attend British universities by the deadline of 30 June were 49,250, against 51,850 in 2016 (a drop of 2,600 students). It is the first decline since 2012, when fees were increased.

As we look at our prospects, I asked four other students at the summer school what they think of the situation and how they see Europe in the future. Iria Gonzalez, from Spain, studied at the University of Oxford this year and will start a masters at the University of St Andrews in September. Maren Menschik, from Germany, attended a college in Oxford for one year during pre-universities studies. Chiara Caumont Caimi, from Italy, is considering a masters in the UK after graduation in Italy. Vincent Habib, from France, has not studied abroad.

What was your first reaction to the Brexit vote and what do you think about it now?

Iria: I feared that the situation could trigger a domino effect that would end up breaking the European project. However, after observing the reactions of other EU countries, I no longer think this is a possibility in the short term. People in most countries believe that the advantages of the EU outweigh the disadvantages.

Maren: When Brexit first happened, I was shocked. I never thought that British citizens would let it happen and that empty populist promises would be so powerful. After reading different analysis of voting patterns, it made me even sadder to see that a high proportion of those voting to leave belong to older generations, who will not have to live with the consequences of the vote.

Brexit worried me for its potential consequences in other European countries, for the danger it poses to European peace and for the loss of competitiveness it may cause to Europe in the global context. The EU, in my opinion, is the only way we have to be marginally significant or powerful in the long-term considering the role of countries like India or China.

Also, Brexit scares me for its root causes. I believe that our “dividing lines” within European society no longer extend along national borders, but between those who profit from globalization and concepts like the EU and those who do not, and that is happening across all countries.

Vincent: I was very disappointed when I heard about the decision of the Brits, and afraid for the future of the EU. At the moment, I think Brexit might give the EU a chance to realise its objectives of convergence and cooperation among EU countries. The UK was not keen on an ‘ever closer union’ and was obstructing policies going in that direction. For example, we can now see that France and Germany are having a new dialogue about European defense, a project that was not facilitated or supported by the UK.

What do you expect from Europe dealing with this new situation?

Iria: I think European countries will make trade deals with the UK depending on their specific interests. I also think the UK is a powerful negotiator and will get quite a lot of benefits, which will mitigate the consequences of leaving the EU.

Vincent: The UK has financial commitments towards the EU and I, as most French people, count on Michel Barnier to ensure they are respected. I totally agree on Brussels’ line of negotiation.

Chiara: I hope in a unified and compact Europe, where decisions are made to achieve common goals. I hope Europe will be hard enough with the UK and manage to reset a balance favouring EU nations that are currently disadvantaged and that may benefit from the decision of the UK.

What does Brexit mean for young Europeans?

Iria: Many young Europeans move to the UK to work in finance or in the National Health Service, sectors where the demand of foreign talent is high. However, I believe it will become increasingly difficult to find a job in the UK, as Europeans will not maintain the advantages they now have as EU members (e.g. healthcare). In my opinion, people will eventually start moving to other countries that demand foreign workers. I believe also the tourism sector in the UK will see a decrease of European travellers. Nevertheless, I think the most affected will be young British, for whom travelling and working in Europe will become more difficult.

Maren: Many British friends fear worse job opportunities, a slower economy, a weaker trade position in the international scene and a further polarisation in society. The loss of many international firms (e.g. in London’s financial sector) and the growing difficulties to work in other EU countries could be major disadvantages for UK citizens.

Vincent: Of course, Brexit narrows down our opportunities to discover the UK and its culture, to study and work there. But I think the biggest loss will be for young British rather than for young Europeans.

Chiara: I believe it is a substantial loss for young Europeans, and a tragic one for young British citizens and for the UK in general.

Do you believe the number of EU students in the UK will keep dropping in the future?

Iria: It will if EU students have to pay the fees that apply to oversea students. If so, they will probably decide to go to another EU country, where fees are more affordable.

Maren: The danger exists. It will depend on the outcomes of the negotiations between the EU and the UK. Until then, the insecurity that comes from unclear terms will also have an impact.

Vincent: The number of EU students will probably keep dropping until an agreement is signed between the EU and the UK on university fees, students’ visas and the role of the UK in the Erasmus programme.

Chiara: I think the number of EU students will drop, but not forever. Europeans will still apply to study in the UK, regardless of Brexit.


Silvia Martelli © all rights reserved. 

Photo via Pixabay.

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