Speaking as a British person in their early 20s, Brexit is probably the biggest balls-up of our generation.
This is particularly the case for the now-threatened Erasmus programme, an initiative which has existed in various forms since 1987, and which has formed a vital part of the university experience for so many students ever since. Thanks to the wonders of freedom of movement, students from participating countries are able to spend some of their university degree studying and working abroad, either as part of a language degree or just because they can. Or at least: they could.
After the next couple of years, the UK’s future as part of the Erasmus programme is uncertain. More and more students over the past few years have been able to participate, as places and EU-wide partnerships increase and more students are encouraged to apply or to study language degrees where Erasmus is compulsory. With the advent of Brexit, we are risking taking away this incredible opportunity to experience study and work in another part of the world from thousands of young people. Consequently, we risk becoming more and more insular as a nation, and we risk alienating our neighbours even more.
I spent my year abroad in Vienna and Berlin and I am a better person and student for it. My German has improved; my confidence and my ability to navigate new and tough situations have skyrocketed; and while it definitely was not all sunshine and roses, I do not regret a moment. I know people who spent time studying in Oslo, people who worked as teachers in tiny villages in Austria, people who spent every weekend travelling, and people who found enough to do in one place. It is also worth considering that we receive as many Erasmus students as we send – and welcoming exchange students in our community definitely enriches university at home. Considering the immense value of such an experience for students, both at home and abroad, the fact that a looming Brexit could take that away from us is only damaging.
As with most aspects of Brexit, no one really knows how things are going to play out. One possibility for Erasmus is that UK universities, instead of being part of the scheme as a whole, would have to apply to get places at EU universities individually. This would no doubt increase time spent on bureaucracy and would end up reducing the number of international university places available to students overall. British nationals may also have difficulties with freedom of movement (which international students going on Erasmus, unfortunately, already have) – will we still even have freedom of movement, or Erasmus? Will we need visas? Will the EU try to punish British nationals for their mistake? One of the bonuses of Erasmus is its relative affordability in comparison to going abroad further afield, to the USA for instance. Potential new travel expenses would no doubt push prices up and exclude many students, especially those from low income backgrounds. We have to wait and see how Brexit actually affects Erasmus, and this could take years – potentially a decade, considering the rate of current negotiations.
What is deeply concerning is that Brexit will almost definitely have a negative effect on students, meaning that a lot of people will lose the opportunity to go abroad and also come to us. Considering that a year abroad is when a lot of students grow and learn the most during a degree, this would be a tragedy.