Here’s a post I never thought I would have to write.
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 want to stay, Brexit is a disaster, a nightmare they’re hoping to wake up from.
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.
Uncertainty is bad for the economy…and for your future
You know what makes financial markets crash? Uncertainly. Uncertainty leads to lack of confidence and lack of confidence leads to avoiding risk and to seeking safe options.
Well, I fear that Brexit has just spilt a huge, rotten barrel of uncertainty onto the paths of talented young people trying to decide about their future. Should you 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 after graduation?
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 anyway. And that’s what today’s EU Referendum results seem to show. Look at the figures and you’ll see a huge divide between the regions: Scotland and Northern Ireland have predominantly voted to stay in the UK – England and Wales have decided on our behalf that we should just leave.
So in addition to having to come to terms with breaking up with the EU, we now may also have to worry about the futur of the Union of the UK. Everyone is already panicking about Scotland holding a new referendum to actually this time leave the UK and remarry the EU on its own.
Add to the geographical divide a generational divide. Young people were clearly predominantly in the ‘Remain’ camp but sadly they voted in smaller numbers (under-18s couldn’t vote).
Brexit is really a vote against immigration
The ‘Leavers’ have successfully used on a number of arguments in their unabated campaign against continued EU membership. However, the one argument that seems to have resonated the strongest with the ‘no’ voters is the claim that the EU is responsible for ‘uncontrolled immigration’ into the UK. Of course the sensationalist tabloid press has played a part as well by consistently reporting that a tsunami of immigrants from Turkey is about to swamp the beautiful British Isles.
So, to the non-European international students sending me private messages on Facebook asking me if Brexit is good news: sorry to disappoint you, but it is actually bad news.
People have voted to leave the EU because they want less immigration, not more of it. What I’m about to say is controversial but I seriously doubt that the ‘Leavers’ have voted to keep out predominantly white, Christian, culturally assimilated Europeans, only to be willing 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 values and traditions.
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, rather than 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. Given the track record of our new Prime Minister, we can safely assume that she won’t be making that one of her priorities anytime soon.
Inflation will increase the cost of living
The Pound is, well, taking a tumble. As an international student this can actually mean good as well as bad news for you.
A weak Pound is likely to give you a better exchange rate on your national currency right now—your parents may be happy about the windfall!
On the other hand, there is a lot of talk about inflation: a weak Pound will mean we get less for our money and 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 alike. Some have even publicly declared that they will move their business out of the UK if it leaves the EU.
Whether these threats are empty or 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 consumers will start spending less.
We have also learned from the most recent economic crisis that when times get tough, companies are likely to reduce or freeze their hiring of new staff, and may even shed existing workers.
Obviously, this is worrying for us in the UK as well as for international students who may have been hoping to work in the UK after graduation from university.
Dear fellow international students from the EU…
The UK is one of the world’s most popular study destinations. In addition to ‘overseas’ students (international students from outside of the EU), there are currently around 125,000 EU students studying at UK universities. EU students studying in the UK have the advantage of paying the same level of tuition fees as British students, and undergraduates can also access the UK’s student loan scheme.
The big question now is: hat will happen once the UK actually leaves the EU? Will universities start treating EU students the same as overseas students? Could tuition fees for European students rise from £9,000 to £15,000 or £20,000 per year? And will they have to obtain a visa to study in the UK?
And it’s not just the students who worry: UK universities fear the worst, too. They worry that the UK may lose some of its appeal as a study destination for Europeans and that competitor countries such as Germany, France and Sweden may reap the benefits.
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 could introduce scholarships for students that really need financial support.
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 USA, 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. Not surprising then that many are hugely worried about what will happen when the UK leaves the EU: will the UK also abandon the Erasmus programme?
Luckily, we may not need to worry about this happening. A number of countries participate in Erasmus exchange but aren’t members of the EU (Norway, Turkey, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Macedonia) and the UK may follow suit. However, whether our European neighbours who we have just jolted will show generosity and agree – that, only time will show.
Happy memories from your travel to Europe…
The UK is not part of the EU Shengen area. This means that international students in the UK wanting to visit any of the 26 Shengen countries need to get a Shengen visa. It’s always been like this, Brexit won’t change 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. I have to admit that over the past few years I myself have grown rather disillusioned with some aspects of the EU and I do understand why millions of Europeans feel the EU is too distant from their lives.
The fact that those voting to leave the European Union say EU membership is detrimental rather than beneficial for their lives is clearly a failure by the EU to communicate its role, ethos and achievements more effectively. The EU has simply failed to conquer the hearts and minds of many of its citizens.
I also believe that labelling all ‘Leave’ voters as a xenophobic and an ignorant lot would be terrible reductionism. David Cameron’s leadership has let down his own campaign and in my view he took the right decision to resign today. And let’s not forget that by opting for politicking the leader of the Labour opposition has contributed to Brexit in no small measure.
Having said all of this, I still view the Brexit vote outcome as an emotional decision and a terrible nonsolution to the real problems the UK is facing. Yesterday’s vote may, I fear, bring serious consequences for us as a country and as a continent.
What Brexit will mean for you as an 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 the day I first set foot here as a young university student. 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—if not as part of the EU, then outside it.