Students: How the EU referendum affects you

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With the UK’s EU referendum soon approaching, it’s important for students to know how our vote could directly impact on our lives. Charlotte Callear tells how a ‘brexit’ will affect our futures.

Edited by Natalie Whitmore

The UK’s national student body have a lot power. Whilst booze and boobs can be a drive for us young Brits, with tuition fees occasionally perking up our interests, it is not difficult to say we are easily distracted from what can really impact us.

But really, there’s an opportunity to take advantage of a great ability we have to make a change. In all fairness, it is fathomable that we do not realise we have it.

Despite the national student’s body having the ability to swing elections, a surprising lack of youths actually vote. With the EU referendum hastily approaching, and each week seeming to bring a new debate or negotiation along with those opposing it, it is hard to keep up. Additionally, it is hard to see what is actually relevant to us university students. The answer: a lot.

In order for students to understand our potential role in swaying the EU referendum on 23rd June, it helps to get a sense of clarity in the impact students had on the general election in May last year:

The difference, however, between this referendum and the election last year is that this time around us students will definitely be affected. 

PM David Cameron speaking out at European summit, in favour of the UK staying in the EU

PM David Cameron speaking out at European summit, in favour of the UK staying in the EU

Backing ‘Brexit’ has proven to be quite the debate for students. With considerations of the option to studying abroad, tuition fees and research funding, it is all somewhat messy.

A beacon of hope for all young students has laid within the Erasmus scheme, which has allowed over 200,000 UK pupils to study in the EU all thanks to the negotiated funding. EU legislation states those young travellers moving to another member state are entitled to the same tuition fees and funding as the host country. Since tuition fees increased (by a whopping £6,000 a year since 2012), this has been a sweet escape for many.

A HSBC study revealed that UK students pay £15,600 a year for tuition, living expenses and accommodation. However, if you hopped over the pond to Germany, the least expensive place to study in Europe, your costs per year freefell to £4,200.

Nonetheless, there is nothing to say that Brexit will stop us from studying abroad, but there is a reasonable likelihood it would drop. By operating outside Erasmus, UK students are submitting themselves to the threat of higher costs if differential tuition fees were introduced.

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Not only does Erasmus benefit adventurous young British students, it is consequently a big help for EU students looking to study in the UK. While that might not sound entirely beneficial to us at first, a look at the statistics show that EU students in the UK have contributed an astounding £2.7 billion to the British economy.

Also, by backing Brexit, it makes it harder for EU students to have the opportunity to study here, as UK universities could charge them more like they do with non-EU students.

However, it is important to consider that inviting EU students into the UK is not wholly positive as there have been troubles with them paying back loans in the past. Ukip’s Jonathan Arnott believes UK taxpayers should not have to subsidise for this. The Student Loans Company showed in 2014 19% of EU borrowers are now residents overseas and earn below the earnings threshold for their country of residences, while another 11% failed to provide details of their income.

Regarding research, an open letter written and signed by 103 university vice-chancellors declaring their strong opinions that EU membership is pivotal to the success of UK research– the research that we students use in our studies. 

In fact, the EU is the largest combination of scientists across different countries in the world, and the UK has 3.3% of the world’s scientific researchers. It begs the questions, what would it mean for scientific research as a whole if England was extracted? Would they even be limited in their participation at all? For projects as significant as Horizon 2020, the largest EU Research and Innovation programme ever, the UK would have to accept associate membership.

Not to mention freedom of movement has allowed scientists, along with other professionals, to flow through to the EU, and as a result 15% of academic staff in higher education are non-UK EU nationals.

Another argument to stay in the EU for students would be the 15% extra funding from the EU that UK universities get, on top of what the government gives them. BU students in particular get a whopping £2.1 million received from the EU (between 2012-2015). It’s not an insignificant amount, it goes towards our studies and facilities, and we would have to say bye to the funds if we opt for ‘brexit’.

Finally, the UK receives one of the largest research funds from Brussel’s with a big boost of £1 billion a year. Nearly 1,000 projects- including student projects- in the UK are dependent upon these funds; more than any other country funded by the European Research Council (ERC). This has led to fears that Britain’s cemented global reputation for scientific research will crumble.

sked-008However, Alan Sked, Professor Emeritus at the London School of Economics argued that EU membership has little impact on international research participation. A 2013 European Council Regulation states countries outside the EU participating in the European Research Infrastructure Consortium (ERIC) would be treated the same as EU members. Let’s see.

Whilst there are larger factors to consider, a strict and selfish outlook of what benefits us students has a mostly balanced approach to each argument. The truth is ‘diving into the unknown’ springs to mind as the UK has been a member of the EU since 1973, therefore it is hard to predict what the outcome will be.