I’m privileged to be the elected President of Kent Union, lobbying on behalf of students locally and nationally. The issues we focus on are as diverse as our members – ranging from mental health and funding through to contact hours and accessibility. There is one issue however, that will affect the whole country and certainly our students: Brexit.
In 2016, a small majority of the country voted to leave the European Union. Approximately 75% of people under the age of 25 however, voted to remain and since 2016, 1.4 million young people have turned 18 and therefore have reached the legal voting age. Not only does this mean 1.4 million people did not have a say in a decision that will affect their lives - but that the pro-EU electorate has expanded dramatically, with over 70% of those young people supporters of a People’s Vote.
As well as this, it is increasingly apparent that the Government do not really know what direction they are taking themselves, with resignations coming left, right and centre. The Brexit that was promised certainly won’t be the Brexit we will get, resulting in 69% of Britons thinking Brexit is going badly. It’s increasingly becoming a possibility that we may even leave the EU with no deal, which would be catastrophic. 55% of Britons would actually prefer to remain than leave with no deal. Due to all this uncertainty we completely welcome the decision by our MP, Rosie Duffield, to support the People’s Vote on the Brexit Deal.
As a students’ union, democracy is at the heart of what we do; if the majority voted Leave, then we must take the appropriate action. However, we believe that there are issues which have not been considered, issues which were not communicated and issues that no one seems to have answers for. As a students’ union, we need reassurances that the Erasmus+ programme will continue, and funding will remain in place. We need clarity on what Brexit means for research funding for PhDs. We need answers on whether EU students would be classed as international and what that means for their fees. We need more detail about the student and academic mobility scheme referred to in the White Paper, and what this means for our students in general and also their ability to participate in key annual activities, e.g. sports tours and RAG (Raise and Give) Jailbreak which add to their overall student experience.
The University of Kent is a European University with centres in Paris, Brussels, Athens and Rome; 12% of new students and 15% of postgraduate students are from the EU and 24% of academic staff at the university come from mainland Europe. It’s important that any deal that is made protects not only our members, but also the staff who provide transformational experiences to our students and helps in bringing diversity and global and cultural awareness.
I think if you ask any of the members I represent, they will tell you that they value a diverse curriculum and a diverse learning environment. We listen to our students and our membership. We fight for their rights and that is why as a students’ union we support the call for a People’s Vote and support the campaign, For Our Future’s Sake.
Our local MP, Rosie Duffield is the first Labour MP in generations to be elected in Canterbury - in no small part because of the support of students and young people in the constituency. I’m personally thrilled, as are our students, that Rosie has listened to the overwhelming majority of her young constituents’ views, and is backing a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.