Yesterday 52% of British voters decided that the UK should leave the European Union. That’s 17.4 million citizens. For the 16.1 million (48% of) voters who had wanted to stay, Brexit is a disaster, a tragedy. A 43-year old love-hate marriage has culminated in the announcement of an impending divorce – due to ‘irreconcilable differences’.
But what does Brexit mean for you as an international student? I’ve tried to sum up the situation in 12 points.
For now, nothing changes. Not officially, anyway
Yesterday’s vote means the UK will now definitely separate from the EU and go its own way. But divorce takes time and the UK won’t actually leave the EU until 2018 at the earliest.
If you’re an international student in the UK right now, nothing will change for you – at least, not in terms of your official status. So no need to panic just yet.
Just to cheer you up: You now have a story to tell when people ask ‘where were you the day the UK voted to leave?’. In 40 years’ time you’ll be able to impress your grandchildren by telling them you were there!
Uncertainty is bad for the economy….and for your future
You know what makes financial markets crash? Uncertainly. Uncertainty leads to a lack of confidence and when we don’t have confidence we either don’t make decisions, or we opt for the ‘safe’ options.
Brexit has spilt a huge, rotten barrel of uncertainty onto the paths of talented young people trying to decide which turn to take into their future. Should they still choose to study in the UK? What will the country be like for international students? Will there be new visa requirements? What about tuition fees and job prospects?
And hey, doesn’t Brexit show that everyone in the UK is basically racist?
Welcome to the Divided Kingdom
The United Kingdom is a divided country. That’s what newspapers have been telling us for weeks now. And that’s what the EU Referendum results have shown. There is a huge divide between the regions: Scotland and Northern Ireland have predominantly voted to stay in the UK – England and Wales have decided we should leave.
The fear now is, will the Union of the UK survive? Or will Scotland hold a new referendum and this time actually decide to split from the UK and marry the EU instead?
There is also a generational divide. Young people, who were either not allowed to vote or voted in fewer numbers, supported the ‘Remain’ camp. The older generation has had enough of the EU – and we must now all live with the consequences of their grumpy mood.
Brexit is really a vote against immigration
The ‘Leave’ campaigners have used a number of strong arguments against continued EU membership. But the one argument that has resonated the strongest with voters is the claim that the EU is responsible for ‘uncontrolled immigration’ into the UK. The gutter press has played its part in claiming that a tsunami of immigrants from Turkey is about to swamp the country.
So, to the non-European international students sending me private messages on Facebook asking if Brexit will mean good news for them – err, sorry darling, no. The British people have voted to leave the EU because they want less immigration, not more.
I’ll put it really bluntly: Do you think the ‘Leavers’ have voted to keep out predominantly white, Christian, culturally assimilated Europeans, only to welcome with open arms migrants from elsewhere in the world. Migrants who, as the xenophobes like to remind us, are ethnically different and come from cultures that are incompatible with British ways?
Sorry to disappoint you, friend. I’m not in an optimistic mood right now.
And now a perfect points-based immigration system!
Some people have been arguing that by halting the ‘floods of migrants’ from the EU, the UK can now control its borders effectively and introduce a ‘real’ points-based immigration system. This way it can let in skilled and unskilled labour based on the needs of its economy, not based on the ‘free movement’ principles of the EU.
But every newspaper report I’ve read on this has highlighted that an Australian-style immigration system would mean more migration into the UK, not less. I can’t see the new Prime Minister sticking out his or her neck for that any time soon.
Inflation will increase the cost of living
The Pound is…well, taking a tumble. As an international student this actually means good and bad news for you.
Doesn’t a weak Pound give you a better exchange rate on your national currency right now? Your parents may be happy about the windfall.
On the other hand, everyone’s already panicking about inflation. A weak Pound basically means we get less for our money. So, any goods that are imported into the UK – including food – could get more expensive.
Also, for all its failings, the EU had meant cheaper consumer prices for us citizens in a number of areas, including flights and mobile phone roaming charges. Without EU regulation and competition rules who will guarantee those benefits won’t disappear?
Did I say Inflation? My bad: I meant Stagflation
Most large companies have been quite clear throughout the referendum campaign that Brexit will make the UK less attractive to businesses and investors. Some have even said they’ll move their business out of the UK if the EU votes to leave.
Whether these threats were empty or for real, the growth predictions for the UK have already been revised downwards. Foreign and local investments are anticipated to slow, house prices may go down, and it is feared normal people like us will start spending less.
And we’ve learned from the most recent economic crisis in the last 8 years that, when times get tough, companies freeze or reduce their hiring of new staff.
So, if you’re hoping to work in the UK after graduation, the short-terms effects may indeed harm your chances.
Dear fellow international students from the EU…
For the about 125,000 students from the EU studying in the UK, the UK’s membership of the EU has made it one of the most attractive study destinations. EU students in the UK pay the same tuition fees as local students. Undergraduates also have access to the UK’s student loan scheme.
What will happen once the UK actually leaves the EU? Will universities start treating EU students the same as ‘overseas’ (non-EU) students? Right now, undergraduates from the EU pay a maximum of £9,000 in tuition fees per year. What if on top of the undergraduate student loans disappearing, tuition fees for European students rise to £15,000 or £20,000 per year? And you will now also have to get a visa to study in the UK?
Will the UK still be an attractive destination? Or might European students decide to stay in Germany, France or Italy – or just take a longer flight to the US? UK universities fear the worst.
Wait, there’ll be more money for new scholarships!
Brexiteers say it’s only right that European students should pay higher fees and that they don’t get the same benefits as UK students. Where’s the logic, they ask, in making ‘wealthy’ European students pay less, while charging high overseas fees to students from developing economies? With the extra income from European students, UK universities can introduce scholarships for students who really need them.
That’s nice in theory, but unrealistic. If UK universities stop receiving government subsidies for European students, they will have to fund the shortfall from the tuition fees they receive. Any money left for scholarships may be spent on scholarships to attract talented European students that UK universities are desperate to recruit.
UK universities will be less diverse
European students make an important difference to the diversity in classrooms and on campuses across the UK. They are well-educated, articulate and have an international outlook. If the number of EU student enrolments in the UK drops, this is likely to impact your student experience, no matter where you come from.
Enrolments from the EU are also crucial for some disciplines and many courses may not survive if they lose a large proportion of their European student intake.
And what about all the European academics working at UK universities? What if many of them decide to take their expertise to the US, Australia or China rather than put up with visa requirements and added bureaucracy in the UK?
Desiderius Erasmus turning in his grave
European students love the Erasmus programme – much more so than UK students. So, many are already worried about what will happen when the UK leaves the EU – will this mean the UK will also leave the Erasmus programme?
Well, not necessarily. A number of countries that participate in Erasmus right now aren’t members of the EU (Norway, Turkey, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Macedonia). UK universities will no doubt lobby the government to negotiate with the EU that the UK remains part of the project. Whether our European friends that we have just jolted will be generous and agree – well, only time will show.
Happy memories from your trips to Europe…
The UK is not part of the EU Shengen area. So if you’re here on a student visa and want to visit any of the 26 countries within the Shengen area, you would need to get a Shengen visa. It’s always been like this, Brexit hasn’t changed anything in that regard.
My undergraduate degree was in European Studies. This tells you how much I believe – or used to believe – in the European project. But millions of Europeans don’t share that enthusiasm, and I have to admit that in the past few years I myself have grown more disillusioned with the EU.
Those that have voted to leave the European Union have clearly not seen the benefits of continued EU membership for their lives. This is a failure by the political class. Labelling all ‘Leave’ voters as a xenophobic and ignorant lot would be terrible reductionism. The EU has failed to conquer the hearts and minds of many of its citizens. David Cameron’s leadership has failed his own campaign – he took the right decision to resign today. The leader of the Labour opposition opted for politicking and thus contributed to Brexit.
But, I think what’s wrong with the EU can be fixed. Brexit was in my view an emotional decision, an exaggerated reaction and terrible solution. Yesterday’s vote will unfortunately have real consequences for us as a country and as a continent.
What it means for international students will, I guess, depend on whether you’re an international student from the EU or from elsewhere in the world. In either case, the EU referendum has brought out a nasty side in many people. The political discourse has turned sour. As I write this, the UK is not the tolerant, friendly country that I’d fallen in love with since I first set foot here many years ago. But I sincerely hope that rather than opting for self-isolation and a closed island mentality, the British nation will now take stock and decide to be a good European and world citizen outside the European Union.