As members of one of Europe’s largest non-profit student organisations, our members and volunteers all share a strong belief in the importance of collaboration for a lasting social impact on the local, national and international levels. With the referendum on UK membership of the EU only one day away and around 10% of voters still undecided, we set out here our stance on the matter. We believe that the UK should remain within the European Union for reasons including but not limited to the following: access to the Erasmus+ programme and benefits, international research expertise and funding, youth opportunities, and the fostering of cultural understanding and tolerance.
The EU-funded Erasmus+ programme has been hugely successful since its establishment in 1987, developing youth skills and employability. In the UK we have seen over 200,000 students benefit from grants during their study abroad with an increase of 50% in the last 3 years alone. Funding is available for volunteer work and traineeships as well as the more traditional study-based placements, and many students’ exchanges would not be possible without the availability of such grants. This initiative is core to fostering educational mobility and cooperation, and whilst non-EU countries do partake in the scheme as Non-EU Members or Partners, there is no guarantee that the UK would still be granted full access to the programme’s benefits if it left the EU.
Even students who remain in the UK for the duration of their studies do still benefit from the EU's contribution to research, postgraduate opportunities and training. The UK is the second largest receiver of the EU Framework Programme scheme funding, a programme providing funds for structured research with a focus on excellence. Besides this economic inflow, the ease of mobility and collaboration with other EU institutes is a core requirement for strong academic research and development, as stressed in the Royal Society’s report on the matter and this open letter from the leaders of 103 British universities.
In addition, whilst the EU leaves member countries responsible for their own youth policy, it helps them set joint goals and share good practices through the EU Youth Strategy. Through a vast range of initiatives, this programme aims to provide young people with more equal access to opportunities, both educational and employment, as well as encouraging their active partication in society. Whether it be the recognition of artistic talent through prizes such as the European Border Breakers Awards or funded ‘green entrepreneurship’ summer programmes for recent graduates, such as the Climate KIC Journey, European initiatives have created thousands of opportunities for young people. The UK must remain in the EU to continue to enjoy the same access to these youth opportunities.
Arguably the most important gain from all of these cross-border initiatives is the spreading of cultural understanding and tolerance. In 2012, the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize for advancing the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. Whilst the majority of UK youth may have never experienced life without peace, almost all people will at some point have witnessed xenophobia. This is a prejudice that can only be combatted through the unity and embracement of diversity that international unions celebrate.
At the Erasmus Student Network UK, our mission is to provide opportunities for cultural understanding and self-development for students based on our core values of ‘unity in diversity’ and ‘openness with tolerance’. The majority of our volunteers at ESN UK have themselves benefited directly from EU educational opportunities, such as the Erasmus+ programme, so we know first-hand the immense benefits of living and working in an international environment. It is those experiences that motivate us to give so much of our time to making those opportunities - for self-development, broadening our horizons, and enhancing employment prospects - accessible to all young people.
We know that the European Union is far from perfect, but we, like many of our generation, see a future in Europe full of opportunities and we firmly believe that it is only by working together across political borders that we can face and address today’s global challenges.