EU Referendum: should we stay or should we go?

In the student bubble, it is easy to hear the Euro arguments without engaging with them. But we all know that these are real issues that will impact our lives both as students and UK citizens. There are actually several ways that the Referendum decision on 23rd June could bring about subtle (and not so subtle) changes to students’ lives. The Gryphon discusses the EU referendum in relation to students.

Every year, over 14,000 UK students take part in the Erasmus Exchange Scheme. This allows EU students to study for a year at another European University. If the UK leaves the EU, its students would no longer be eligible for the scheme. Of course, UK students are also able study further afield, in places such as America and Australia, so it is likely they would still be able to study in Europe even without EU membership. However, the main benefit of the Erasmus scheme is the Erasmus grant, which gives students up to 300 euros a month to support the cost of living abroad. This grant is invaluable for students from lower income backgrounds who rely on it to be able to study abroad. Without EU membership, there is no guarantee UK students would receive any additional funding for European study. This stands to exclude many students from an invaluable opportunity to live and study abroad.

Leeds University, like many others around the UK, benefits from a truly international student community. No one can deny that this enriches campus life in many ways. At the moment, EU students can study in Leeds as there are no visa issues for European students. The UK immigration system is not straightforward for non- Europeans. Whilst the government might come up with a Europe-friendly policy, it might just suit a government (of whichever persuasion) to tighten up European entry. At the moment, when targets for immigration are higher than planned, many of the people in the equation are students who are only coming to the UK to study temporarily. If it was harder to come to the UK, presumably talented prospective students would study elsewhere. This could also have a knock-on effect for those intending to study in other countries – if the UK makes it hard for European students, might their governments be tempted to reciprocate?

In the summer holidays, thousands of UK students take opportunities to work abroad in Europe or to go inter-railing. Without open EU borders and the right to work across EU countries, this may become far more difficult. At the moment, UK citizens do not need work visas; our rights are protected under European law and we have automatic health cover should we need medical assistance. Again, this could all be re-negotiated but it would surely have to be on a more mutual, quid-pro-quo basis?

So the UK’s decision may impact learning, but what about teaching? Many Leeds top academics are from EU countries. Once they have been accepted in a post, the transfer across to the UK is easy. Clearly this open border approach benefits everyone. Students in all disciplines are taught by the best in Europe. This pan- European approach must also bring different ways of thinking and new dynamics to the learning environment.

Stephen Hawking’s recent comment about the contribution of Europe to UK Science was that coming out of Europe would be ‘a disaster for UK science’. His main argument was that without freedom of movement and EU grants, the UK might lose out on top European research. Euro-sceptics pointed to Switzerland as an example of a successful Non-EU country – but Switzerland receives limited access to funds and as a result does not attract many young overseas researchers. It is possible that a lack of UK scientific research would have a knock-on effect on students studying STEM subjects in the UK.

These are just a few examples of the direct impact on the current and future student population. The fact is that young voters are paramount to the outcome of the vote. It is easy to think of the here and now and easy to get bogged down in dull debates about ‘sovereignty’ and ‘bureaucracy’, but this has to be about more than that. The decision that the country makes in June is about the country we live in and, as such, our lives over the next decades. It is about the UK’s place in the world, and its future economic, political and social structures. It is about what we want, not just for ourselves, but also for our families and everyone in the country.

Can we do everything alone or would we be better belonging to a bigger community? There are strengths and weaknesses for both sides of the argument. There are lots of ‘what ifs’ and a lot of predictions. Of course, no one can give a definitive answer. But there are some facts that we as students should take the time to study. One thing is certain though: the answer to that question on June 23rd will definitely have a huge impact on our futures.

Esther Marshall

Image: George Hochmuth

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