As part of the government’s Brexit deal, the UK withdrew from the EU’s historic Erasmus programme, which enables students all around the EU to participate in university exchanges, offering young people the chance to broaden their horizons by exploring other European cultures, meeting new people, and learning languages. Now, young people in Britain will miss out on many of these opportunities, and their years or semesters abroad have become increasingly difficult.
The impact of Brexit on students studying abroad
Grace is one thousands of students who has been affected. After receiving her A-Level grades, which were, as her mother, Sandra describes, “excellent”, Grace was offered a place on her “dream degree course” to study acting at the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona. Although the degree runs from Spain, the degree is accredited by John Moores University in Liverpool.
Having been so affected by the pandemic as many young people have, Grace has for months looked forward to embarking on an adventure which would have enabled her to meet students from all over the world, expand her skills, and develop her view of the world.
The new, lengthy visa process
Along with thousands of other British students, Grace and her mother began the visa process, which they found to be “long, expensive and frankly bewildering”. Unlike before, British students can no longer arrive in Spain (or another EU country) and organise student resident permits, as well as starting their degree courses.
Instead, students must apply before travelling. This is done by email to arrange an in-person appointment when they can take their relevant paperwork to the Spanish Consulate. Paperwork has to be notarised, legalised, and must gain the Hague Apostille – an official government-issued certificate for documents that need to be recognised in another country.
In addition, applicants need to complete Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) system checks, such as police checks, in order to obtain the necessary visas. For Grace, these checks took longer than anticipated – made worse by having to self-isolate for a short time too – and she missed her appointment slot at the consulate. Sandra describes this as “heart breaking”.
In total, the process has cost Grace’s family over £1,500, including some expensive health insurance that had to be purchased up front.
The long-term impacts of Brexit on study abroad
The system is new for everyone in the UK post-Brexit. The Spanish consulate is simply following the system that it has in place for ‘third’ countries. When she spoke with us, Sandra was keen to stress that the family doesn’t hold the consulate responsible for this mess; it’s one of the many devastating consequences of the UK leaving the EU.
Young people like Grace have missed out on opportunities that would both enhance and improve their futures. Since 1973, the British people, says Sandra, “have had the benefit and honour of being able to live, work and study all over this diverse and exciting continent … Taking that away, or making it so hard we give up, is brutal, mean spirited and – in the end – a massive negative for global Britain.”
Grace has now accepted a place for a one-year course of study here in the UK, and will apply again next year to the Institute of the Arts in Barcelona.