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21 May 2019updated 25 Jul 2021 3:46pm

Layla Moran: The EU has been a huge success story for students

By Layla Moran

Erasmus is the EU’s biggest name on campus; every student has been on it or knows a course mate who has. Over 300,000 UK students have studied or worked in the EU as part of their degree since Erasmus started back in the 1980s. Universities tell us that it’s “an overwhelming force for good.”

But we should remember another 11,000 students take the plunge each year and head to the EU for their whole degree. Non-discrimination rules mean that a Brit in Amsterdam isn’t charged a penny more than a Dutch student at the same uni.

The EU has achieved something our parents could only dream of. Studying abroad has become affordable, fashionable and, well, normal.

The benefits of studying abroad are huge. You can pick up a new language, develop a love for another culture, and pick up new skills, hobbies and work experience to boost your CV. Finding your feet in a new country provides an enormous boost to your confidence and independence. And you’re building friendships that could last a lifetime.

Brexit puts all of this under threat and it’s the poorest students who have the most to lose. That’s because, if we leave the EU, the costs of studying abroad skyrocket, making it unaffordable to many.

Outside the Single Market, non-discrimination rules no longer apply to UK students. The Netherlands, most of Belgium, parts of Germany and many other countries all charge massively higher fees for students from outside the European Economic Area.

European universities are already warning potential students. “If there is no deal specifying otherwise after Brexit day,” Leiden University in the Netherlands says, “you will be charged the non-EU/EEA tuition fee.” At Leiden, that’s €10,800 a year.

Meanwhile, a British chemistry student at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute will pay more than £14,000 a year after Brexit. If the UK stays in the EU, they’d pay nothing.

And here’s the killer blow. This is not like studying in the UK, where you pay nothing towards your degree until you’re earning more than £25,725 a year. You must find the cash up front.

Could the UK and EU come to a deal to avoid the fee hike? No chance. Cabinet leaks have shown us that the Tories are desperate to hike up fees for EU students to attend UK universities. Not only that, they’d take away student loans from EU students too.

What about Erasmus students? There is such a thing as associate membership, but the UK would have to pay more to re-join the club it just left. Plus, it wouldn’t cover all of the perks.

Even then, negotiations could be doomed to fail. Every associate member is either in the Single Market (like Norway) or applying for EU membership (like Serbia). In Theresa May’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit Britain, the UK will be neither.

But there’s more at stake. Erasmus was designed with the poorest students in mind. Lose Erasmus, and you lose the extra grants and support for students on low incomes or who have complex educational needs. Lose Erasmus and FE students will struggle finding the same study abroad opportunities as undergrads.

And this will only get worse. The EU is about to triple funding for Erasmus in its next multi-year budget, with a focus on improving study abroad opportunities for disadvantaged students.

Outside the EU, studying abroad will become the reserve of the wealthy. Inside the EU, it’s an opportunity available to almost everyone.

Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage all have damaging visions of Brexit that hurt, not help, students. It is only by stopping Brexit that we can save Erasmus and make it affordable to study abroad.

At these European Elections, students need to hit the Brexit parties where it hurts: in the ballot box. Liberal Democrats are the strongest Remain party on the ballot paper. We’re making the case for a People’s Vote so we can stop Brexit.

Studying abroad should not be something that only the wealthy can afford. Every student deserves the opportunity to experience other cultures, make new friendships, share ideas and widen their horizons. If you agree, you need to vote Liberal Democrat on Thursday.

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