With the outcome of the UK's referendum on EU membership an unpleasant surprise for many across Europe, the Erasmus Student Network sets out the impact on Erasmus students and calls upon British and European stakeholders to protect and ensure the continuation of mobility programmes for youth.

The 23rd of June will mark a memorable day for many of our friends and colleagues in other European countries who have eagerly followed this campaign. As stated in ESN UK’s position paper, we believe that the UK should have remained a member of the European Union, for access to the Erasmus+ programme and its benefits, for international research expertise and funding, for the fostering of cultural understanding and tolerance, and so many other opportunities that the EU provides for young people. Despite this, the country has decided, albeit by a narrow margin (51.9%), that the United Kingdom should exit the EU, and, as a network that fosters democracy, we respect this decision.

ESN UK’s volunteers have all experienced the personal and professional enrichment that mobility provides. Many have spent a period abroad, for example with the support of Erasmus+, but this is by no means the only way we have benefited. The incoming Erasmus students have taught us a great deal, and allowed us to create an international and culturally diverse community here in the UK, forming lasting international friendships in the process”, says Meriel Smith, National Representative of ESN UK.

The results of the vote suggest that young people as a demographic overwhelmingly voted to remain, in part because they recognise the opportunities that the EU opens up for youth. It is the younger generation who will live longest with the consequences of this referendum, and, having grown up taking for granted the right to live, work and travel freely across Europe, many of them are worried about the future.

The outcome of this referendum is therefore by no means representative of our views, or those of the 48.1% who voted to remain with our European colleagues. We will not let political changes alter our international outlook or our ambition and today’s result will not lessen our determination to study, work, live, or visit our friends all around Europe (and beyond). Even though these things may become more difficult, we encourage perseverance in obtaining placements and grants for mobility opportunities”, she adds.

What does the vote to leave the EU mean for students?

The UK, being one of the top destinations for beneficiaries of the Erasmus+ programme, has played a significant role by receiving 200,000 students over the last three years. Current students benefiting from the Erasmus+ programme, both international students in the UK and British students studying abroad, will most likely not experience changes to their international exchange. Before we can see any substantial changes, the UK has to decide whether to apply Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and end the withdrawal process to leave the EU.

This process will probably take up to two years, if not longer, meaning that those undergoing a programme that extends to 2018 may be the first to experience new regulations. The future conditions for international students wanting to study in the UK and British students wanting to study in Europe are as of yet unknown and will have to be decided during the negotiation phase.

To all current and prospective international students, and all Europeans living in the UK, we would like to make clear that we will continue to welcome you and to cherish the value you add to our communities. At this time of such uncertainty, it is more important than ever that we work together and unite against intolerance and fear”, encourages Meriel.

She continues, “To all young people who voted for a future in Europe: do not give up hope. It may not have gone as we had hoped, but we have sent a powerful message about the sort of future we want to live in. We have before us both a challenge and an opportunity, a chance to help shape a stronger Europe.

The Erasmus Student Network calls upon UK stakeholders, as well as their European counterparts, to safeguard opportunities for young people, such as access to the Erasmus+ programme, that have benefited so many of us over the last 30 years. 

The Erasmus Impact Study has shown that young people who have undertaken a period of study or work abroad are more open-minded, more engaged, and more employable than their non-mobile peers. The way ahead looks turbulent for our continent, and whether the UK is in or out of the EU, we must continue to invest in those who will be shaping and leading the Europe of the future”, says Safi Sabuni, President of ESN International.

We cannot ignore the current trends in Europe and the European Union has a difficult time ahead. We need the European Union and all Member States to learn from these recent events. We need our leaders to collaborate and to invest in shaping a stronger European Union of citizens.

Figures drawn from the Erasmus Impact Study.

If you would like to find out more about the current situation and the outlook for the future, the National Union of Students (NUS) UK has released a statement on What Brexit means for EU students in the UK and UK students in the EU.