Young People and Brexit
Article submitted by Jack Bellamy (22) from Eurodesk UK Partner IARS International Institute.
The EU is often seen as an elitist political project, beneficial only to those who can afford to travel regularly for work or pleasure, live on the continent near bordering countries, and have access to networks of international connections. What is often overlooked however are the opportunities the EU regularly offers to its younger citizens (ages 13 – 30). The EU has a number of programmes and services such as the European Voluntary Service (part of the Erasmus+ programme), the European Youth Portal and Eurodesk which provide young people with information and the opportunities to go abroad.
As a young person, I can only hope that following the Brexit vote the UK government will have the foresight to leave political battles and grievances aside and work to keep the clear benefits the EU provides for young people. Once the UK follows through on its plan to leave the EU the Erasmus+ programme may however not be lost forever. Turkey, Lichtenstein, Iceland, Norway, and Macedonia are all fully fledged programme countries despite not being EU members. Whatever political vision the UK may have for Europe should not have to compromise our participation in Erasmus+ at least.
The topic of student mobility stood out as the headline subject when talking about young people and the EU during the referendum campaign. In light of the referendum result this is one area where discussion has been relatively scarce. Will UK students be eligible to study abroad? Will the UK be taking less European students? Will UK students lose out on Erasmus+ exchange programmes? These are all questions which are yet to be answered fully. While Universities have given short-term assurances that EU students are welcome and fees will not change, this may not last forever if the UK is determined for its future to be outside of the EU. Uncertainty will be a major factor in putting young people off the opportunities presented to them by the EU, and in actually working to publicize these opportunities while they still exist.
In a time where the value of university degrees is being questioned, by the generation currently considering higher education, Erasmus+ plays a key role for many young people and not only students. Volunteering and training opportunities provided to young people through Erasmus+ further strengthen their skills and broaden their minds, helping them embrace diversity. The value of the EU in this area has been very clear through the recent Erasmus Impact Study, showing for example that European mobility programme students “have better employability skills… than 70% of all students.” Erasmus was also a self-perpetuating programme in that “mobility also promotes a European identity”. I personally felt European before I embarked on a year’s Erasmus programme in Germany, and even more so when I returned. My year spent at Mannheim Universitӓt may not have helped me to finally crack German grammar, however more generally it was extremely valuable. I learnt about my subject both from a differently focused curriculum, but also through experiencing the cultural aspects of German life and physche I was able to compare identities and attempt to understand what ‘Europeanness meant’. Currently however I feel frustrated that Brexit has left us facing challenges in this area – students may miss out on opportunities, young people (all across Europe) may be less inclined to study in the UK, or uptake volunteering opportunities and ultimately the UK may become even more marginalised from the rest of the EU by its young people not experiencing the benefits of European mobility programmes.