The Students' Representative Council (SRC) hosted a European Symposium at the beginning of May in order to address the issues facing EU students and the implications for the University of Glasgow as a result of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
The event was student-led with a number of individuals from various European Union countries taking part in focus groups intended to explicate students’ concerns as to the looming consequences of Brexit. As part of these focus groups, students discussed the implications for the Erasmus programme and international mobility, employment opportunities after Brexit, student fees and also the political concerns surrounding the issue.
The event commenced with the SRC President, Ameer Ibrahim, and the SRC International Students Officer, Thao Ha, welcoming everyone to the event. Ibrahim pressed that the continuing uncertainties surrounding Brexit, particularly for students, had inspired the hosting of the Symposium so that the EU student community could voice their anxieties whilst being recognised and celebrated by the University.
This introduction was followed by a speech from Jim Conroy, the Vice Principal for Internationalisation. Conroy condemned the British government’s handling of the current negotiations and the general "post-truth" era of politics which had, he claimed, informed people’s choice at the referendum. Conroy also made it clear that the University would continue to support European students throughout and after Brexit and would make every effort to ensure that students could take advantage of international opportunities.
Students were further addressed by Rosie Birchard, the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) President, who spoke about the role of ESN across Europe and in Glasgow, and about the ESN’s intentions to give a student perspective on Brexit. Since the decision to leave the EU, ESN at the University of Glasgow has hosted its own conference on mobility and Brichard, as President, has appeared in front of the Brexit Select Committee to discuss education policy for mobility. Birchard concluded her speech by expounding the benefits of mobility for the individual and for society, claiming that "mobility is a lifestyle."
The focus groups then got underway where students discussed their thoughts on international mobility and the Erasmus programme. Students expressed that whilst the Erasmus programme, if scrapped, could theoretically be replaced by an international programme, the cultural community created and surrounding Erasmus could not be replicated and that the essence of Erasmus was irreplaceable. Funding also constituted a central concern for students with many claiming that the removal of the Erasmus grant would undoubtedly prevent people from participating in or even applying for the programme.
However, a more sobering tone was sounded when discussing the University of Glasgow’s appeal to European students after Brexit. Whilst many students heralded Glasgow as a friendly, beautiful city and the University of Glasgow an impressive institution, there was also a recognition that Brexit had created a perception of hostility and that the University would have to convince people it was still open to European exchange. With funding for Erasmus not yet guaranteed and with the potential that European partnerships will have to be completely re-negotiated, there was anxiety that the University and the UK more widely, might struggle to attract and indeed fund future exchange programmes or positions for EU students.
Such anxiety was reinforced by Jonathan Jones, the Marketing, Recruitment and International Officer of the University of Glasgow. Jones noted the 14% drop in undergraduate applications from European medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine students before the Scottish government committed to free tuition for those arriving before 2019. He made clear that the mere perception of Brexit had resulted in a reduction in undergraduate and postgraduate employment.
After Jones’s speech, the second focus groups commenced with a focus on employment and political concerns. A number of students voiced their concern as to their employability opportunities in a post-Brexit Britain. Some who had previous intentions of remaining in the UK now signalled their decision to return to the EU after their studies whilst one UK student felt pressure to relocate within the two years of Brexit negotiations. The barriers which would be erected if visas became a requirement of travel between the UK and EU were highlighted as a main concern to employment opportunities in the continent.
As the groups drew to a close, Ibrahim expressed his thanks to all attendees and reassured that the feedback received would be passed on to the University of Glasgow. At the end of the event, Ibrahim spoke to The Glasgow Guardian, stating: "There have been a lot of views and opinions expressed that perhaps we’ve not directly heard in the SRC before." Ibrahim expressed his hope that the feedback collected would "influence some of the discussions and projects moving forward."
When asked if the event could become a regular occurrence, Ibrahim claimed that "certainly that would be my recommendation [...] I certainly think that having student-led events that actually address Brexit are really important in the future."