Brexit. That word so many of us dread to hear in a seminar, restaurant or family discussion signifying the painful, confusing and boring updates that seem to dominate all forms of our news, whether that be in the UK, the US or Asia. We hear so much from UK politicians about how holidays in the Mediterranean will cost more, and that supermarkets will face the terrifying prospect of no Feta cheese, Belgian chocolate or French wine.
It is estimated that 3.8 million EU citizens live in the UK. The day after Brexit, the majority of them were shocked and disappointed. Two years later, and closer than ever to Brexit as the UK is scheduled to officially leave on Friday 29 March, how do EU students at York feel about all of the chaos?Are the rumours of an unfriendly, hostile atmosphere true? Do they fear that their prospects of living in the UK are in danger after 29 March? EU nationals are incredibly important to the University, making up almost 10 per cent of the student body, as well as a significant number of staff members. Surely then, it is of huge importance for us to listen to what they have to say on one of the defining political issues Europe is currently facing. Six students at the University of York from different EU countries, backgrounds and courses were interviewed about their feelings and concerns in a post-Brexit UK.
Alex Ionascu, who is Romanian, came to the UK to obtain a better education. His dream was always to move to a Western European country and build a stable, prosperous life there. Having been in the UK for two years now, Alex is proud to call the UK home, and does not plan on returning to Romania. His plan was initially to settle in a country like Sweden or Denmark, but that changed after the experiences he had in Britain, so much so that Alex now wants to stay and eventually get a house and a job here. To him, Brexit is of course an unfortunate situation, especially as there is very little that EU citizens can do about it, and the vast majority of its impact on them will be negative. Brexit produces anxieties over work opportunities and tuition, two of the pull factors that make Britain a place so many people wish to come to.
Adele Sabatino, an Italian student, chose to study in Britain because of the fantastic prospects a Bachelor degree from a good university would offer. Before coming here, Adele considered the possibility of staying beyond graduation, but has now decided that the life here doesn’t appeal to her. She is now seeking a new European country to do her Master’s degree in and looks toward what lies ahead. That isn’t because the UK offers a toxic environment or an unwelcoming attitude, though. Adele loves the multiculturalism and open-mindedness this country offers, two things that she feels are lacking in Italy. Having been in York for almost three years now, she can say with confidence that she feels welcome here. For Adele, Brexit is a disappointing situation. She sympathises with her fellow EU nationals, who she believes will suffer limitations in work related opportunities.
Antoine Echassoux, who is French, always wanted to settle in the UK, and saw no better way to begin his life here than at university. He perhaps summarises the Brexit predicament for EU nationals best, seeing it neither as positive or negative, just something that is completely out of their control. However, his main, understandable concern is about the future of tuition fees. It was the student loans provided for EU students that enabled him to become an undergraduate at York, but there is now the worrying prospect that they could rise to become as expensive as what international students currently pay. Like Adele and Alex though, Antoine feels strongly that the UK is a welcoming country, where everybody is given a chance to fit in. He hopes that all of this uncertainty can be overcome, so he and so many others can put all of their worries behind them and move forward.
Sophie Schulze, a German student, has always been fascinated by British culture, and she shares the belief that the UK is a tolerant and welcoming place to study, live or work. Nonetheless, she fears she could end up moving to another EU country after she graduates should the eventual withdrawal agreement limit the working opportunities available. Like with many EU and British citizens, it is quite a frightening and confusing concept to her. Lots of the reasons people voted the way they did are totally justified, but the concerns that nobody truly knows what is going to happen make it difficult to feel positive about the situation. Like Antoine and Alex, Sophie fears tuition fees could go up, to the point where ordinary EU students can no longer afford to come here to study.
Andreanne Rellou, from Greece, always had her heart set on coming to the UK. She is an actress and singer, and saw no better place to come and kick-start her career. Although Andreanne is set to graduate in the summer, she hopes to remain here indefinitely afterwards. Her plans haven’t changed as a consequence of the Brexit vote or the uncertainty that has plagued the last eighteen months of negotiations. Regardless though, she feels that Britain leaving will cause losses on both sides. Work opportunities are one, something that almost all EU students in York are seriously concerned over. Although Andreanne feels happy and safe in York and the rest of the UK, she has still faced discrimination, simply for speaking loudly in public in a different language. Going forward, she is confident that things will slowly improve, even though leave and remain voters’ held opinions appear to be deeply entrenched.
Hanna Bryszewska is different from the other students mentioned here. Not only is she a mature student, but she came to the UK several years before beginning her studies at York, leaving Poland at the age of 16. Hanna does not intend to return to Poland, but now worries about whether Britain is the place she wishes to spend the rest of her life, as she doesn’t find it as appealing as when she came here ten years ago. The impact of Brexit has already caused her confusion, especially in her pre-settlement status. Applying for a job is another concern, as Hanna feels that being an EU National could complicate the process. She believes that the general atmosphere in the country has become more hostile than it was prior to the referendum. Although not severely stressed, Brexit is an annoying pain that is always lurking at the back of her mind.
In the 2016-17 academic year, EU citizens made up 6 per cent of the total number of students in the UK. After pressure from students and universities, the government confirmed that tuition fees for the 2019-20 academic year will stay the same, regardless of whether an official withdrawal agreement is confirmed or not. However, there has been no announcement yet as to what will happen from September of 2020 onwards. EU students currently pay the same tuition fees as home students. If that was to change, and the cost was to rise to what international students pay, many wouldn’t be able to stay here.
There is a reason that the UK attracts hundreds of thousands of students from the EU. It is a prosperous country, offering people the chance to achieve things they wouldn’t be able to do in their home countries. Even though many of them leave behind friends and family, lots fall in love with everything the UK has to offer, whether that be the world-class education system, the work opportunities or the inclusive environment.
Students like Alex came to York thinking they would only be here for three years, but now find themselves looking for jobs and planning their future in the UK. Brexit has caused immense stress for students who just want to get on with studying and achieving a better life. The fact that so many are still passionate about achieving their dreams of studying in Britain is incredible, and is what makes universities like York such a great environment.