Photograph: Flickr / mpd01605
Warwick University campus has been fortunate to play host to two Eurosceptic public figures this week, firstly in the shape of Toby Young, associate editor of ‘The Spectator’, and secondly Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative Member of Parliament for North East Somerset. Whilst conveying scepticism of their argument, it is important to address some of the reasoning they have been using to convince students and beyond that Britain would be better off leaving the European Union.
To begin with a rigidly student related issue, the Erasmus scheme is one that allows EU students to study at a vast range of other European Universities on a range of different degree courses, whilst allowing international students from the continent to travel to our very own British Universities at a reduced cost. This is due to a vast spending programme by the European Union which currently sees its ever-growing budget at €14.7 billion, benefitting from 200,000 UK Students and 20,000 UK staff. Whilst this stands as a huge figure that encourages the development of knowledge and skills, it also seeks to open new opportunities to travel and explore different cultures – opportunities that were not afforded so easily to previous generations. One of Europe’s most bemoaned values, the free movement of people, can be advertised here as having the potential to further individuals and bolster European closeness and togetherness. Erasmus shines through the gloom of the crossroads we find ourselves at with the EU, but I think it can be part of the solution to growing closer to our European partners post referendum and is certainly a reason that, on its own, can convince students staying in the EU is a good idea.
What I found particularly worrying was the lack of detailed argument and specifics that neither Rees-Mogg nor Young had prepared on this terrain. It seemed very distant to them that a younger generation may perhaps be more interested in the cultural and societal benefits of being part of the EU rather than the financial elements. Both Young and Rees-Mogg did not shy away from describing international students as ‘economic benefits’, perhaps proving Gordon Brown right, who suggested that the Brexit camp are too invested in the apparent concept of 1940’s Britain. Standing alone in an increasingly globalised world is at odds with the students of today, for whom there is a necessity to actually integrate further into the interconnected world which will be, in turn, shaped by our generation. The alternatives to the Erasmus scheme offered were meagre and theoretical. The suggestion that a new system would be agreed bilaterally between the United Kingdom and the EU is once again presumptuous, and believing that the European order will once again fall in to place with the needs and wants of the United Kingdom is dangerous, and should not fill EU students with any sort of comfort.
We should value a diverse community within Europe which benefits the United Kingdom, often seen as the perpetual outsider of Europe. Academic perspective is increasingly important to maintain close knit partnerships with European universities, no more so in attempting to counter the issues that Europe faces as a continent. We must seek to work together in greater harmony, not burn bridges which benefited the lives of 30,000 students a year (according to the British Council). The scheme provides the opportunity to gain extra skills to give an edge over an expanding global market of employees, provides intercultural skills and pins down the UK’s growing identity as being an outward looking nation which resonates so much more with our generation. This referendum is potentially the most important decision this country will make, and I believe that students are being ignored.