Fate of Study Abroad Program Unclear to Young Women

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BERKSHIRE, United Kingdom and BETHESDA, Maryland. (WOMENSENEWS)–University students in the United Kingdom who wish to study abroad may face significant changes in the coming years because of Brexit.

Erasmus, a university student exchange program funded by the European Union, likely “will not survive the U.K. leaving the EU,” according to Charlotte Methuen, a senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow who has worked closely with program administrators.

Specifically designed to ensure ease of travel and study for higher-education students and staff, Erasmus benefits U.K. students by covering the majority of students school and living costs when living abroad. In the 2012-2013 school year alone, 14,600 British students went abroad under the Erasmus exchange programme, the vast majority to France, Spain or Germany. Nearly 75 percent of these students are female, which means that teen girls and young women women would be disproportionately affected by any changes to Erasmus funding.

The potential defunding of Erasmus is disappointing to 19-year-old Samantha Johnson-Porter, who is studying at the University of Reading in Berkshire, U.K. As someone who is soon taking advantage of the program on a journey to Spain, she believes her rights to Visa-less travel as a EU citizen is “cost-effective and time-efficient” especially as she’s “young and broke, like most students my age.”

There is also a safety issue to consider.

“Traveling alone to a foreign country as a young woman could be potentially dangerous when you don’t know who you could phone for help, who to talk to, all of that,” said Johnson-Porter “Knowing it’s all prepared for me, that I’m not arranging it by myself, is a burden off my shoulders.”

It also helps get her parents onboard. “My parents would have been very worried for me if I independently tried to do all that Erasmus has done on my behalf,” she said.

The potential effect of this on the younger generation is unwanted, according to the 75 percent of 18-24 year-olds whom statistical site YouGov says did not want to leave Europe. Johnson-Porter is one of these young people. “It’s kinda sad that my little sister, who’s 14, may not get the opportunities to borderless travel and education the way I’m having once Brexit is finalized.” she said.

Being able to study in Denmark through Erasmus has saved Phoebe Hanson-Lowe £9,000 ($11,063).

While English universities can run up to £9,000 a year (it’s set to raise to £9,250 ($11,562) by 2017 and at least £9,500 ($11,880) by 2018) studying in Germany is free even for international students; ditto with Finland and Netherlands. The cost-savings alone leads many Britons to consider studying abroad.

“The Erasmus Exchange is one of the most exceptional things the EU has to offer,” says Hanson-Lowe, 20.

Repeated voicemail messages and emails to Erasmus’ Press Department by Teen Voices were unanswered.

Catriona Parry, 21, who has just finished an Erasmus-sponsored year as an English teacher in Lisbon, said, “I would have had to have done a year abroad regardless of the availability of Erasmus as it is compulsory for my course [in Lisbon], however I know a number of people for whom study abroad has been optional and, were it not for the Erasmus funding available, probably would not have chosen or been able to have that experience.” Parry said working abroad with Erasmus has made her more independent and able to meet interesting people and places.

Other European students have also gained from EU-run transnational studying programs, One in 20 undergraduates and one in 10 postgraduates in U.K. universities are non-U.K. EU students. In 2012-2013, nearly 6 percent of students studying in the UK were from EU countries, generating £3.7 billion for the U.K. economy and generating 34,000 jobs in local communities, according to Universities UK.

Miina Noroila, 22, is from Finland and studies theology and religion at the University of Glasgow. She is in her third year of undergraduate studies with Erasmus at Humboldt University in Berlin. “When I first heard about the Brexit referendum taking place, I was of course instantly worried that this would affect my ability to finish my studies without paying for tuition fees, and also that my Erasmus year would not be as easy as it would have been before,” she says. However Noroila thinks her studies will be safe because she will graduate in 2018 before the U.K. departs from the EU.

The fate for future U.K. students wishing to study in the EU is unclear. The students interviewed for this story feel they don’t have all the information they need on the matter. Meanwhile, foreign students eager to study or work in the U.K. through Erasmus may no longer have that option. When Switzerland exited the EU, Erasmus stopped completely in the country and some are worried that the same thing will happen with the U.K.
Universities are sending subtly confusing messages to students about the fate of Erasmus post-Brexit. Some schools like the University of Bristol, for example, are being cautious. Others, such as the University of Edinburgh, have announced no change until the U.K. formally departs the EU.

Johnson-Porter, the 19 year-old Birmingham student, considers her Erasmus travel a “lifetime opportunity, an eye-opener experience, to both go to foreign places to study and be surrounded by people you’d have never met otherwise that have travelled from where they were to study in the U.K.”

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