The damaging effect Brexit rhetoric has on EU students

Theresa May with the text 'Brexit means Brexit'

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Ka Leung

Andreea Bocioaga
Writer

Andreea Bocioaga discusses feeling uncertain and unwelcome since the Brexit referendum last year

I’d been in Glasgow for almost six years at the time of the Brexit referendum, but I’d never felt more out of place and unwelcome than after the night of June 23. A lot of the rhetoric in the UK during the campaign was marked by a sour taste of xenophobia, culminating with Nigel Farage’s controversial posters of immigrant hordes. I didn’t want it to bother me, but the election result was a reality that would affect me whether I chose to ignore it or not. The aftermath of that election brought on a daunting sensation: I’d lost an element of control over my own life. I became acutely aware on that day that apart from being someone who had a life here, I was also a potential problem the UK government wanted to take care of.

The following year has done little to assuage my concern for the future. I am now quite prepared to have to leave the country at some point due to visa or residency requirements, although I have no desire to do that.

One of the reasons this sense of insecurity manifested comes from the lack of a coherent message from the UK government regarding immigrants’ status in the UK. The confusion and chaos around the topic seems to worsen every day, and even as I type this, the BBC are reporting that the Home Office sent an estimated 100 letters in error to EU citizens living in the UK, informing them that they risked detainment if they remained in the UK. There’s also been an increasing number of reported incidents of foreign nationals living in the UK being verbally abused and harassed. News like this can unfortunately portray the UK – and Glasgow by proxy – as unwelcoming and unsafe environments for EU students to study in.

It’s still unclear how the wider world will respond to Brexit, but the news suggests there’s a noticeable sadness about the UK’s anti-EU sentiment. In the UK itself, signs of EU citizen dissatisfaction have already emerged and, according to the Guardian, there has been a 30% rise in departures of EU staff working at UK universities in just two years. Among the universities most affected is Cambridge, losing 184 staff in the last year, a 35% increase on 2014-15. Edinburgh, only forty minutes from Glasgow, also took a hit, losing 96 EU staff – up from 62 in 2014-15. The Financial Times also claims that business school academics are moving to other European countries, as the predominant sentiment is that other countries are open to foreigners in a way that the UK no longer is.

At the same time, the 15% drop in the pound against the dollar has made the UK fees cheaper and the UK education sector is still highly appealing. An EU student applying to study at Glasgow now would still qualify for the home fees exemptions; however, once the UK leaves the EU, students from the EU would be recruited as international students which means that fees would go up substantially.

I asked some of my international acquaintances for their views on how Brexit affected their career and study choices. One person living in the EU said the following: “Brexit affected my decision to stop looking for jobs in the UK as well as served as a disadvantage to the UK universities I was considering for a masters.” However, another international student stated that: “As a non-EU student, Brexit has not changed the visa policy or my rights here… The only change affecting my own day-to-day personal life is the value of the pound… I work as much as before – if not more – and basically earn less…”
It quickly became clear that Brexit has affected people’s lives and decision-making in various ways, none of them positive.

As for me, the one thing that has reassured me in a small way has been the vastly different approach when addressing and talking about immigration that the Scottish government is taking compared to the rhetoric of the Tory government in Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon’s reassuring message for immigrants in Scotland gave me a palpable sense of security.

Ultimately, however, she has little say on immigration policy and it will inevitably fall upon the UK government to make a real commitment to reassuring future and potential graduates of their place in the UK.