It seems that everyone is ready for Brexit to be over, however it is still not a done deal. According to Jo Johnson, former Minister of State for Universities and Science, “EU and international students make an important contribution to our world-class universities,” but will Brexit have an influence on this?

By Lara Decrae

We talked to a couple of UK students who are currently studying in Brussels and VUB students who are studying in London to find out whether or not Brexit has an impact on them as students.

Sally Tipper (38) is a freelance editor and production journalist from England. She came to Belgium with her boyfriend in 2010 and studies at CVO Semper on campus. Sally voted to remain in the EU in the (2016) referendum.

How do you view Brexit?

“Brexit is a big concern and something that is impossible to ignore. I’m concerned about its impact on friends and family back in the UK, particularly the younger generation. It saddens me, for example, that they will not have the opportunities of freedom I have enjoyed. One of the most troubling things for me is how Brexit has polarised the country in such a short space of time. It has become an issue where there seems to be no middle ground, and the rhetoric from politicians, sections of the media and the public has become very violent and divisive. I don’t see a way for it to end positively.”

Have you noticed its influence on your surroundings?

“To be honest, I struggle to follow the technicalities of the process and find it difficult to understand it in detail. It’s something that eventually comes up in just about every conversation, and I don’t think this will change.. My family in the UK has mixed views and I prefer to avoid the topic altogether when I see them. In Brussels, people are on the whole pro-EU, but that’s to be expected; people have seen the benefits of EU membership, though they recognize that the EU is of course not perfect. I dare say that away from Brussels there are less positive opinions about the EU, just like outside London and other UK cities there is more anti-EU sentiment.”

Do you feel like you have to make a choice between countries?

“Like many people, when I came to Belgium I wasn’t necessarily expecting to stay here, so I don’t know if I would have applied for citizenship had it not been for Brexit. Though of course it has its own political problems. I don’t yet feel like I’ve had to choose between the two countries, but I certainly feel less British since the referendum and everything that has followed. On a practical level, Brexit hasn’t changed anything in my life, but it has made me question my assumption that I would eventually return to England. I feel now like I have a foot in each country but am not completely rooted in either of them.”

“I have a foot in each country but am not completely rooted in either of them”

Sally Tipper

India Stiller (20) comes from the South East of England and hops between Kent and Sussex. She studies Social Sciences at VUB and it’s her third year in Brussels.

What are your thoughts on Brexit?

“I can’t follow it, mainly because all the headlines and news stories are about what politicians have said, Juncker and Johnson primarily, but I’m finding out from my friends that know more about politics that the things they’re saying, like ‘We will not be granting the UK another extension’, are irrelevant because the people saying it don’t have the authority to make those decisions.”

Have you noticed its influence on your surroundings?

“I noticed the NHS (the National Health Service of the UK) is super underfunded, so are our schools, so are general wages, the police force, housing, social benefit… It’s been bad for a while because of austerity but it got worse since Brexit took over all of the government’s attention and resources. I feel like a lot of people just want something to happen regardless of what it is, because they’re bored of hearing about it. I think I’m personally against Brexit but honestly no one knows what it’s going to be like until it happens. It’s a huge risk though.”

Has it impacted you as a student?

“The EU props up a lot of our Higher Education funding and I’m scared that our universities will suffer a lot from it. I definitely want to get an EU passport, get dual citizenship somewhere else but I don’t feel like I have to choose between countries because this is just an exchange year for me. I’m 100% English, but I might move abroad in a few years, depending on how well or how badly Brexit goes.”

Are views different here than they are at home?

“Here, all my international friends seem to be very interested in it, but in the UK it’s all we hear about on the news, so we don’t want to hear about it anymore. Not all people educate themselves on what’s going on, they tune it out. My grandparents do pay more attention to the news and they’re furious about the whole thing and they think most of the UK politicians are idiots and shout at the TV a lot, but I avoid getting into it with them because they’ll never stop talking about it.”

Laura Berthoud (22) has lived in Brussels for most of her life, she’s a postgraduate student at Imperial College London and is taking the MSc in Science Communication.

What is your view on Brexit?

“I seem to be balancing between being curious about the next steps and bored of the eternal debates going nowhere new. Aside from news articles and conversations I like watching “Brexit explained” videos on Youtube, they help me grasp the situation.”

How does your environment react to it?

“It’s always striking to be reminded of how much everyone lives in their own bubble. Around me, everyone I speak to is a remainer (fellow students, professors, people in the streets…).”

Are you worried about the consequences of Brexit?

“My personal life hasn’t been hugely affected so far. I don’t feel too worried about the consequences as I’m only planning to live here for a year and everything’s been sorted; I’ve signed my lease, I’ve paid my tuition. I don’t take any medications. Although I did stock up on my contraception pills! But we’ll have to see if they even get a deal through before I move back to Brussels this summer…”

Born and raised in Brussels, Yannis Skalli (23) studied History at VUB. This year he is studying International History at the London School of Economics.

What is your view on the entire Brexit story?

“Obviously, Brexit (or the Brexit saga we can say by now) is a hot topic here. Especially in the academic environment and in my department, during lectures on the history of European integration or during public lectures; the topic always comes up. At the same I feel that there is some kind of fatigue, some people are getting tired of the whole debate (as the last vote on the deal in Parliament probably showed). ‘Just get it done’ seems to be their motto. The huge numbers that showed up to the protests in the last weeks obviously counter that narrative.

“With regards to my personal experience: there seems to be, in my immediate environment, a certain reluctance to debate with people who have a totally different opinion. For example, when we were having lunch last week, the subject came up and one person said: ‘I’m probably going to vote for the conservatives, but I won’t bring that up now – let’s not destroy the good atmosphere’. The debates that go into the substance are usually quite long but always end with the same conclusion: nobody knows what will happen… That also seems to be the position of Belgian Embassy. Until now, however, they have assured us that nothing will change for us during this academic year.

“Looking into the future and the upcoming elections, which probably were the only way out of the impasse, the whole debate will without doubt heat up enormously. I however fear that the superficial level of some of the campaigns, as before the referendum, will once again impede serious discussions. Not only about ‘Brexit’ and the future position of the United Kingdom in the world, but also about the underlying and more pressing problems such as the huge inequalities in this country and climate change.”

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