Never mind the deal, any Brexit is bad for students

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By Benjamin Salmon, Second year, Politics and International Relations

As March 29th 2018 draws closer, we must remember why our links with the EU are important and why Brexit will be bad news for students.

The country is in a perpetual political limbo thanks to Brexit.

The Prime Minister is currently courting all sides of the parliamentary clique to pass her half-baked, pleasing-no-one Brexit deal with the European Union and it is rather excruciating to watch someone commit their time to such a dud of an endeavour.

However, it is worth revisiting its effect on students. It will fundamentally make the students of Britain, and those potentially coming to Britain from the EU, worse-off.

That said, it is worth starting with an important concession on Erasmus. The uncertainty over the future of UK access to the Erasmus programme is the issue often cited as the most pressing for UK students. The deal that Mrs May has brought forward does give some guarantees committing Britain to the programme in the near future.

However, with the prospect of a ‘no-deal exit’ looming larger by the day, there is scant protection for future British students having access to the programme, limiting the wishes of many to study and thrive across borders.

One area Brexit will detriment students heavily will be through restrictions to the free movement of academics. A central message of the Leave campaign was advocating ‘taking back control’ over borders and this will likely lead to a curbing of the current, relatively open, immigration policy and leave many foreign academics unable – or, sadly, unwilling – to come and teach and research in British universities.

It will fundamentally make the students of Britain, and those potentially coming to Britain from the EU, worse-off.

Building these blockades would do nothing but inhibit valued wisdom from reaching our universities and so create an atmosphere where Britain is not a welcoming place for academia and learning.

This all stems from Mrs May’s ‘hostile environment’ policy, implemented during her time at the Home Office, where the ability to migrate to Britain was made trickier, discouraging migration at every level. At the moment 16 per cent of academic staff come from other European Union countries, more than double the general population average. Losing this diversity in itself would be a shame for British students but it would also limit the academic pool of knowledge Britain benefits from as a world-class university nation.

At the moment 16 per cent of academic staff come from other European Union countries, more than double the general population average.

The EU is also a great driver of British academic research funding which, before we leave in March, stands at around £1 billion per year. Many vital research projects have benefited from this, none more so than the University of Manchester’s development of the material graphene, now a worldwide industry set to be worth more than $350 million by 2023.

Without this funding, UK academia – especially universities which lack large endowments – will have to find funding elsewhere, perhaps resting more worryingly on tuition fees.

This is especially poignant for a research-based institution like Bristol, where the European Commission grants represent 10% of all research funding for the University. Bristol will profoundly lose out when its primary asset, its research acclaim, comes under fire.

In addition, the current deal by which British students pay home fees abroad and vice versa will most likely end, leaving many students wanting to study abroad likely to be lumped with general international fees. The same will also true for EU nationals, deterring them from coming to study at British universities.

In all, this whole project leaves us worse off.

So what is the point of this article? Many will ask why I have set this all out, on the verge of our imminent exit from Europe. They will ask why I am bringing up apparently old wounds when the debate over staying or leaving is supposedly over.

the European Commission grants represent 10% of all research funding for the University.

Yet, as we leave the EU, it is still worth considering why students have a stake in Britain’s future relationship with Europe. Students have a right to make their concerns known, no matter how annoying they may be to many others across the debate. When most of us have grown up benefitting from being part of a peaceful and cooperative Europe, that is not surprising.

In the EU, we had a freedom to travel without inhibition, belonged to a market where goods are fundamentally held to higher standards than elsewhere. I’m looking at you America, with your chlorinated chicken. We learned, lived and loved across borders without the arbitrariness of a state telling us not to.

Young people need to keep the debate alive.

Our concerns may seem insignificant to those in Westminster, but they are legitimate and they will affect us in years to come. If we do not make a case for Europe, even now, we will leave our European neighbours in March all the worse for it and our students and our universities will pay the price.

Featured image: Flickr/@freeimage4life

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