One of the tragedies of Brexit is the impact it will have on students and future generations – people who weren’t even able to vote during the referendum. Many UK universities are still struggling to understand how their students will be able to study or work abroad, as part of their degrees. Universities will also have to overcome new visa and red tape restrictions if they want to welcome EU students, teachers or researchers.
The Tory government decided to leave the Erasmus scheme, meaning that thousands of British students won’t have access to scholarships, grants and free access to studying at top European universities. This is something I asked about in Parliament back in 2017 and it doesn’t just impact students, but college staff, youth workers and training teachers. The Turing scheme will not offer the same financial support for our students abroad. Nor is there any promise of funding beyond 2022. Just like the government failed to negotiate for touring musicians, they also failed to stand up for younger generations. I believe this is unforgiveable and will enormously impact the choices and freedoms of our young people.
Matt Western MP, Labour’s Shadow Universities Minister, has repeatedly called on the government to provide support and clarity to students and universities, given that it was Johnson himself who broke his promise to keep the UK in the Erasmus programme. Ministers must ensure the Turing Scheme maintains the UK’s status as an attractive study destination for international students, protecting and promoting our global standing.
In July 2021 I wrote to the Tourism Minister about the issue of passports for EU school tour groups. Pre-Brexit rules allowed schools to successfully and securely provide lists and ID cards in place of passports, given the comparatively low number of European children possessing passports due to their ability to access the passport-free Schengen area. I shared the concern of tour guides in the industry that rule changes requiring child tour groups to carry passports would simply encourage thousands of European schools to choose other EU/Schengen countries for school trips rather than the UK. In a normal year over a million European schoolchildren travel to the UK, and the potential loss to hotels, hospitality, coach travel, visitor attractions, transportation, guided tours and the wider industry is beyond calculation. Sadly the response I received did nothing to address these fears.
Many students from EU countries develop a love and interest in the UK from these early trips and they then decide to come to the UK to study, teach and research at our great institutions. Sadly these students will now face higher tuition fees and expenses to study in the UK, as well as additional visa requirements and changes to student support arrangements. For our students in the UK, those wanting to work or study abroad will now be required to apply for visas. Our musicians now cannot apply for travel visas to Europe unless they have a letter of invitation from a top-tier company.
According to recent findings by Ucas, UK universities have seen a 40 per cent drop in the number of applications from EU students since Brexit. In September 2021, the UK Foreign Office contacted its Spanish counterparts, on behalf of UK universities, over the difficulties British students faced to get visas. Spanish officials rejected proposals for a fast-track visa process, stating that students need to go through the same checks as other non-EU students. I believe moving forward, the government needs to establish clear communications with its European counterparts to ensure that British students can still have access to studying and working in the EU.
As part of Labour’s Shadow Foreign Team, I will continue to hold ministers to account on the barriers now preventing British students from freely working and studying in the EU, and urge them to do everything they can to support them at this crucial time.