“We have so much more in common than divides us.” This was one of Stephen Kinnock’s stand out statements at the Commons Future Forums, paraphrasing his late colleague Jo Cox.
For many of us, University is the first place where we come into contact with a diverse group of people and cultures. A place where we can discover the common similarities we share with people, irrespective of background. These can be as simple as sharing a love for pineapple pizza, or as elaborate as having the same unanswered questions about religion, even with a roommate who holds a different faith.
— OpinionPanel (@OpinionPanelC) January 24, 2019
As an Austrian national and British resident with Sierra Leoni ancestry, I considered my experiences to be quite unique. University provided me with the opportunity to meet fellow students with similar backgrounds to my own, something I would have been unable to experience if I had not been eligible for SFE funding as an EU student. There are many young Europeans like me in the UK, some whose families have lived here for decades, and likewise, there are many young British people living and studying in Europe. Each group holds a wide array of stories and different points of view which, when shared, can educate and inspire the ones around them. Not only do we share a certain sense of unity but hearing about these differences helps us become even closer.
Now, this decades-long sense of unity and shared understanding is under threat – by Brexit. Despite 61% males and 80% females aged 18-24 voting to remain in the EU, we, as students, have to live with the long-term consequences of the county’s overall decision to leave the European Union. There have been many conversations in the Brexit debate – the Irish border, British sovereignty, the importance of the single market, yet as Affua Hirsch rightly pointed out at the Brexit impact on Higher Education panel, there has been “a complete absence of conversation around the impact of Brexit on young people in the political discourse”. The UK Council for International Student Affairs showed that in 2016-17 alone we had 138,000 non-UK European students in Higher Education, not including British residents like myself. It is astounding, therefore, that the impact of Brexit on students in Higher Education is not being prioritised by the government.
Brexit is not only impacting young people’s ability to travel, live, and study abroad but it is also actively dismantling our Higher Education institutions. The potential loss of “intellectual diversity” may prove to be disadvantageous, with European lecturers and researchers choosing to go somewhere with a more welcoming disposition. Even for those who do not put stock in human capital and only think within financial terms, the consequences will be disastrous. The loss of research funding and reputational damage is likely to have an adverse impact on Higher Education which, according to a 2014 Oxford Economics report, is a £95 billion industry.
Stephen Kinnock stated that as a country we are “more divided, than at any time since WWII”. After WWII the people of Europe joined hands for the shared common goals of financial prosperity and peace, building the foundations of what would eventually become the EU. As the generation that will have to live with the reality of Brexit, it is therefore imperative that we retain an open and inclusive university system and continue to fund programs such as Erasmus in order to foster a future relationship with Europe based on a shared common ground.