My Thoughts On EU Students Becoming “International” After Brexit

In one of my previous articles, Brexit For An Insider, I discussed the background of Brexit, why it didn’t think the UK will benefit from it, and how I hoped the Government would reconsider their decision to increase the university fees of EU students. Today I’m here to analyse their decision to consider EU students international from the academic year 2021/2022.

During the past few months, I have been oblivious of advancements in the discussions about Brexit. It’s not that I wasn’t eager to know what was going on, but I had understandably other matters to reflect on. Yesterday I stumbled upon an article written on the Wessex Scene, the newspaper led by students at the University of Southampton. The article reported on the decision of the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, to consider EU student as international from the year 2021/2022.

Apart from my initial shock at the news, I then tried to find when this was deliberated. I expected to find this news in the past couple of weeks, but I discovered it’s a decision dating 23rd of June 2020. This angered me. I understand the Government’s need for advancements in their consultations, but I think there are greater matters to ponder at this moment in history.

About the economy

We are in the middle of a pandemic. Many Countries are collapsing under the weight of a poor health system and a failing economy. The UK is not doing great at the moment, considering it has lost over 45,000 thousands of lives. According to the BBC, the economy was hit by the worst contraction in GDP in the last 41 years during the month of March. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated a further loss of 20.4% in April. The expected total decrease in 2020 will be 12.4%.

Although I don’t normally like to make comparisons-and my Country has made mistakes-it astonishes me how the UK Government seems to think about everything except for the pandemic and how to deal with its consequences. The Italian Government was not perfect; the economy is expected to take a similar hit to that of the UK, estimating a GDP loss of 12.8%. Most of the money circulating in the country derives from tourism and export, so it is not surprise there will be enormous losses. However, the most important difference I find is the Italian Government is trying to work towards solutions for the economy by discussing Recovery Funds not only for the sake of the Country but also for the others who have suffered similar downfalls.

What’s changing

But let’s go back to more practical matters. Michelle Donelan stated: “Following our decision to leave the EU, EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals will no longer be eligible for home fee status, undergraduate, postgraduate and advanced learner financial support from Student Finance England for courses starting in academic year 2021-22.”

This means EU students will have to pay between £10,000 (€11,000) and £38,000 (€41,900), depending on the course and the university that offers it. In Southampton, the fee for international Neuroscience students will increase from £9,250 (€10,100) to £21,580 (€23,600). As I said in my previous article about Brexit, I wouldn’t be able to study in the UK if university fees increased that much.

There is still a bit of hope for those already studying there. According to Donelan, this will not affect “students starting courses in the academic year 2020-21, EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals benefitting from Citizens’ Rights under the EU Withdrawal Agreement, EEA EFTA Separation Agreement or Swiss Citizens’ Rights Agreement respectively.” This means I will not be considered international because I am already studying in the UK when this policy starts. However, this remains a problem.

What will be lost?

The main answer is diversity. Why are you trying to limit diversity in your country? UK universities benefit from a highly multicultural environment, not only because of international students but also EU people who decided to study there. During my 2 years at the University of Southampton, I have been encouraged to share my opinions and confront them with the others’. What kind of debate are they expecting to spark if every single student comes from the same country? This is even more fundamental in courses like Politics, History and Sociology, where a multicultural environment brings up different perspectives.

And while the Government asks EU countries to allow Britons to live abroad and maintain their rights, the Parliament still debates whether to only accept STEM students or everyone, no matter the course they choose. Or to reject those who do not have a degree and work in restaurants, pubs, shops and piking those jobs that are often left for immigrants.

Have you thought about the economic impact on those cities where universities are located? Although it doesn’t seem much, if you add up university fees, rent, food, transportation, hobbies and leisure, the amount of money lost will weigh on people and companies offering those services. Fewer EU students will be able to attend university, which means fewer graduates that will fill up the STEM roles the Government seems to put above everyone else. And even though I can understand this might be an incentive for UK students to enrol in STEM courses, the reality is there is still a gap between the number of people needed and those who graduate. Otherwise, EU, EEA and Swiss students wouldn’t be so successful in the UK.

I am still baffled by the decision taken by the Government. Most of all, I don’t understand why this conversation is going on during a pandemic, when what should matter is the wellbeing of the citizens and how to recover from the economic downfall. As I mentioned above, I can appreciate their need for more answers on Brexit, but I think this is becoming a red herring to hide more important matters.

I will continue to advocate for a more sensible way to treat EU, EEA and Swiss students. There has been talk about revoking our right to have free medical care, needing a Visa to travel to and from the UK-unless you fit under the Settlement Scheme-and more restrictive rules to access jobs.

As long as my rights are not compromised, I will study in the UK. But as I said in my previous article, I am getting mentally ready to finish my degree and start looking for options away from the UK. The change in status should not affect those who are already in the country, it is disheartening to know my fellow citizens will have fewer rights than me. This saddens me, and I hope the Government will reconsider their decision.

I will update you as soon as I get more information on this topic. In the meantime, let me know what’s your opinion and if you think there is something we can do to revert the Government’s decision.

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