THE BLOG

Why British Students Need the EU

12/08/2015 10:19 BST | Updated 10/08/2016 10:59 BST

It was a major issue in the run-up to the 2015 general election. We all saw politicians ducking and dodging away from the political grenade that is Britain's future in the EU (or, in Nigel Farage's case, pulling the pin out and then swallowing it for good measure).

And yet the EU - and Britain's membership - still seems a bit of a fuzzy, grey area. Trying to engage in a debate about the EU is bit like having an argument on a D of E expedition; you're all looking up at a distant rock and then looking down again at the map and arguing about whether or not it's the famous rock formation you're meant to be headed for or whether it's just, in fact, a rock.

Or even a Pot Noodle induced mirage.

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It's tough enough trying to explain to someone exactly what the EU is, to try and establish everything it encompasses, all its intricacies. So trying to convince a diehard Eurosceptic that Britain just has to stay in the EU? You'd have to be, well, an expert on European Reform.

Luckily I found one.

Richard Corbett is an MEP (Member of the European Parliament). He was an advisor to the President of the European Council for four years, and in 2012 was voted the fourth most influential Briton on EU Policy.

I asked Corbett why we - students, the next generation - should opt to stay in the EU when the Conservatives hold a referendum on the issue next year.

Here's what he told me:

"EU membership is a long-term decision. Its young people who have to most to lose if we go down the isolationist road of walking out."

He's got the 'isolationist' part right. Just think about how much we, university students, rely on the EU for. Freedom of movement, shared ideas, shared research funding.

The Erasmus scheme is just one example of this. Half my friends from university are currently (selfishly) spamming up my Facebook account with selfies taken at their new job in Berlin or Paris for their year abroad - paid for by the Erasmus scheme.

'As a languages student, I believe studying or working in foreign countries is the best way to pick up the language, as well as fully understanding the local people and their culture,' says Saskia Tempest-Radford, a third-year student studying French and Spanish.

'Erasmus is the most amazing programme. Thanks to the EU, I'm going to be able to study in Spain and work in France, something which will no doubt be incredibly useful for my degree, but also an experience I'll never forget.'

Carolina Lozano Baldeón, who's spending next year studying at the University of Cantabria in Spain, agrees.

'The funding they provide is very generous considering how many people get an Erasmus grant,' she says, 'and the fact we never have to repay it is great as well.'

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Hugo Hruska, another third year student on his year abroad, believes that it's only through travelling and freedom of movement that we can leave national stereotypes behind.

'Your whole life you're taught stereotypes and prejudices about other cultures,' Hugo says. 'It's only by interacting and participating within another culture that you realise that the world isn´t as scary as you might have thought.'

The freedom of movement the EU grants has a major impact on British young people.

Just think of all the extra hassle you'd have encountered on your obligatory two- weeks interrailing before Fresher's without it.

But it's not just the freedom of movement, or even funding. Leaving the EU would also have massive implications for the research done at British universities. Just look at Switzerland: Swiss academic research is now in limbo after it was excluded from EU research projects following its breach of the freedom of labour rules.

Cambridge academic Sir Leszek Borysiewicz recently stated that 'the UK needs Europe and Europe needs the UK,' arguing that the EU 'bring[s] together academics to work on today's big global challenges.'

Last month, university chiefs announced that were planning to back Britain's membership of the EU, launching 'Universities for Europe' today.

For British universities - and our degrees - to maintain standing in the competitive global market, it makes no sense to leave the massive pool of resources that is the EU.

Edward Butler, a third year spending a year of industry in Spain, agrees that being in the EU helps British students compete in the global market.

'A degree at an English university is held in high regard in terms of employability,' says Edward.

It goes back to what Richard Corbett said about Britain becoming isolated - geographically and academically - if it leaves the EU.

'The rest of Europe is amazing,' says Jed Fletcher, who's spending his year abroad at Toulouse Business School in France. 'Being an island, I think that the UK gets a great deal being part of the EU.'

'If we want to be able to stay competitive against the US and China, we need the EU,' agrees Hugo.

Our generation has got it tough. Upon graduating, we're each facing a huge student debt, low wages and a property ladder that's as difficult to climb as the greasy pole at the school Summer Fête

So why on earth would we make it even harder for ourselves by leaving the EU?