How Leaving the EU Might Affect Students

AFS Team·7 March 2016·5 min read
How Leaving the EU Might Affect Students

Prime Minister David Cameron has recently announced a referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union, set to take place on Thursday 23rd June 2016. All British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 are able to strike a vote on the issue. In general, those in favour of leaving Europe argue that it would cut down on migration, save on costly membership fees, and relieve Britain from the burden of heavy EU legislation. In contrast, those who want to stay in Europe claim leaving could threaten trade and investment as well as Britain's global standing.

A great deal of political commentaries concentrate on the economic impacts of staying or leaving the EU. Nevertheless, it is important to underline the potential impacts of leaving the EU on British students and the University system as a whole.

1. Erasmus and research abroad

It is clear that British students are able to benefit from EU freedom of movement rules, allowing them to take part in schemes such as Erasmus. The same applies for academic staff as they can take research leave abroad. More than 200,000 students and 20,000 academics have taken part in the EU’s university exchange scheme since its launch in 1987. In turn, it is argued that EU academic mobility enhances British education as foreign exchange programmes such as the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions allow European university staff members to spend periods of time working abroad.

Dame Julia, the vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, claims that these exchange schemes are not about ‘academic tourism.’ Rather, she suggests they are about building academic networks and absorbing different languages and cultures which are insights required for students to become the global leaders of tomorrow.

2. Research grants

Given that the European Union is the body through which a large amount of research funding is channelled, it is also suggested that the UK relies on the EU to build on its research infrastructure. Leading academics suggest that leaving the EU would mean that prestigious UK institutions would struggle to remain relevant on the world stage. They argue that EU membership enhances British universities’ global reputation for excellence.

In particular, scientists from all fields have contend that leaving would decrease the level of expertise in the UK as recruiting top academic talent would become more difficult, and it would complicate the cross-border collaboration on which much research is based. Statistics suggest that research funding from Brussels is worth approximately £1 billion a year.

3. Community of talent

There are also arguments to suggest that a Brexit could lead to declining quality and standards in UK higher education. For instance, many universities are built around European teaching and research staff. Consequently, there could be significant changes to the university environment if Britain leaves the EU.

Many claim that the European Union reinforces innovation, knowledge, and technology, all of which contribute to UK economic growth and productivity. Therefore, as former shadow secretary of state for business Chuka Umunna argues, ‘intellectual curiosity and the power of university-led research to transform our lives and innovate doesn’t stop at the English Channel.’

4. Culture

Leaving the EU would also alter the demographics of the UK University system. Students from the University of Leeds argue that foreign exchange is enriching for their university experience, as the presence of a variety of people from different cultures turns universities into international community. Therefore, many young people suggest that depriving students the chance to make international connections would be a mistake.

These are just a few of the suspected impacts of leaving the EU on universities and students. It is a complex debate with countless conflicting arguments. It is of vital importance that students register to vote on this issue as it represents one of the biggest political decisions of the 21st century.

By Nina Harris