The (not so) Great British breakup

The (not so) Great British breakup

Tue 23 Aug 2016 8:36 AM

Students past and present: visualise your ideal, horizon-broadening experience abroad. Maybe you’re thinking of language immersion; lessons on local history (or locals’ habits); perhaps you’re partial to making lifelong friendships with people from around the world. All these are cornerstones of the Erasmus experience.

Over the years, this enriching EU-funded university exchange programme has seen many young British students study, work and travel abroad—with countless others from elsewhere in the EU choosing Britain as their destination. But what was once a very real prospect for every university student—regardless of financial means—is now more of a distant dream. As you may have suspected, we can thank our dear “friend” Brexit for that.

It’s the biggest breakup since Charles’ and Diana’s, sure, but what does this royal mess mean for the future of this programme? It’s certainly not all tea and cake. The Erasmus grant provides funding to offset extra costs of living or working abroad—funds that seem unlikely to be replaced.

Erasmus grants are frequently enjoyed by language students, who rely on in-country learning to develop and fine-tune their speaking abilities. But Brexit may spell disaster for foreign language learning as a whole: a sharp and irreversible decline is expected, given that detachment from the EU may mean less motivation to invest in foreign language skills and university departments.

As someone who was fortunate to receive an Erasmus grant, I know that many young, keen foreign language speakers like myself are now filled with uncertainty and fear for our future. The four years I’ve spent honing my skills seem sad when I think of the limits to be imposed on living and working abroad.

It’s easy to call champagne socialism on the worries of those students who’ll be affected—“Daddy won’t fund you, eh?”—but the positive consequences of studying or working abroad, both on a societal and personal level, are tough to counter. Doing away with the grants will mean that study abroad experiences will be limited to a wealthy few. Many of the lucky ones who manage to make it work will likely skip out on museums like the Accademia or price-carrying churches like Santa Croce; they won’t indulge in Florentine bistecca at Il Latini or explore much beyond the boundaries of their base city. They will get by as best they can, but won’t fully live out the beauty of this once-in-a-lifetime experience, once available to all.

Even with funding, the Brexit turmoil would still see international students suffer under the new, laughable exchange rate, with the pound now at its all-time lowest.

So is this really the end of Erasmus?

For the sake of the minds, educations and futures of language students, let’s hope not. Otherwise, it’s au revoir and arrivederci to croissants and cornetti: seems we’ll be stuck with crumpets from now on.










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