It’s now 3 weeks since the EU referendum took place, and it’s been a turbulent time. Every day seems to bring a new - and often breathtaking - political twist. From today, with a new Prime Minister in place, we may start to see some clarity in terms of the course the UK will chart in its negotiations with the European Union.
For many people in the UK, whether they voted in or out, it feels like everything has changed. And yet, in reality, very little has - for now. In terms of outward student mobility, it is very much status quo. The European Commission has reassured the UK that students participating in mobility in 2016-17 will be unaffected; EU students currently studying here in the UK have received a guarantee that they can complete their degree under their existing student loan arrangement; and UK universities can still apply for International Credit Mobility projects before the September 2016 window. Universities UK has provided a series of messages for universities to use in communications to students and staff. As a result, UK universities are experiencing minimal impact on their Erasmus participation in the short term.
The sector does have unanswered questions about the medium to long term. What we do know is that institutions across Europe still want to work with us. Universities UK has received many letters of support from its rectors conference counterparts in other European nations, and I know many UK universities have received messages of support from their EU exchange partners. Issues are indeed being reported with research partnerships, but as yet, exchange programmes remain unaffected. What we don’t know yet is how the uncertainty about the medium to long term will affect take-up of Erasmus+ from 2017 onwards. Will Brexit stimulate an increased interest in Europe from students? Or will it make them hesitant? Obviously the more information UUK can provide, the greater the reassurances universities can give their students and we hope to have more answers in the autumn. In the meantime, the Go International programme and the UK National Agency for Erasmus+ are working together to produce some FAQs for the sector on student mobility. These will continue to be updated as new information comes to light.
We do also have some ideas of the challenges we might face, not least to ensure that there remains sufficient funding for students to access mobility programmes, in particular those who would not be able to travel without some financial supplement. This is still a key objective of the UK Strategy for Outward Mobility, to address barriers to participation in mobility – it is just that the barriers have shifted somewhat in the last few weeks. Nonetheless, we have made great progress as a sector, and I am confident that we can, as a sector, continue to provide a range of opportunities for our students to access international experience that has a positive impact on their lives.
I realise that the longer-term uncertainty is difficult for many of us. That is why it is important to focus on the certainties we still hold. I still believe that international experience is hugely beneficial to the student and the university, and should be supported. I also think that outward student mobility has reached a new threshold. The Go International programme has spent the last 3 years working with the UK sector to help raise the profile of outward mobility, to provide evidence of its impact on our students. We are now faced with an unprecedented level of profile – UK students have been mobilised to vote, even protesting to defend their right to study abroad. The UK Strategy for Outward Mobility needs to ensure that the UK as a sector can capitalise on this movement, that we can build on this to increase students’ confidence to take on mobility opportunities around the world, and not just in Europe. International experience is critical now, to ensure that our graduates are open-minded, tolerant and culturally aware, and to reassure the rest of the world that the UK still holds these values as a nation. Together the UK sector can weather this storm and produce a new generation of mobile graduates. And the Go International programme will be around to help it.
By Anne Marie Graham, Head of Programme, UK Strategy for Outward Mobility