The UK's European University No More? a conversation with UKC Erasmus
By Morgan Rodway-Wing
Following the government’s recent refusal to confirm the continuation of the Erasmus+ programme post-Brexit, I felt compelled to delve further into how Brexit could culturally affect the students of UKC. Erasmus+ is a European Union programme that enables students to travel to other European countries for the purpose of developing, strengthening, and modernising their education.
The programme is at the core of the cultural vibrancy and vastness exhibited at UKC, with record numbers of international students choosing to come and study here. Jack Barton, President of the UKC Erasmus Society, and Mario Torella, Vice-President, explained that it was the “best time” of their lives. Torella boldly stated that he “grew up on [his] year abroad” and “would’ve happily stayed out there” which was particularly refreshing to hear, given how difficult it was for them adapting to a new culture and country.
Barton and Torella were keen to bring the level of community and integration they experienced in Italy and Austria back to Kent and redeveloped the UKC Erasmus Society. Originally set up by Erasmus+ students as a support system for coping with moving to a new country, the society is now an “open space where people can come and enjoy themselves” no matter who they are, where they are from or what they study. Instead of creating a society exclusively for Erasmus+ students, their primary focus is integration, with non-Erasmus+ students being encouraged to join too!
They made it perfectly clear that they want everyone to be able to experience new cultures and often run events and trips in order for this to happen. A buddy scheme is even being talked about in the near future which will see international students being paired up with non-international students to encourage integration even further. However, this scheme may never be given the chance to become a reality because Brexit has threatened to tear the society to shreds.
While Barton and Torella were adamant that UKC deserves to be called the “UK’s European University” due to its international connections, it is undeniable that the discontinuation of Erasmus+ would strip it of this title. Barton called it “heart-wrenching” and admitted that ‘”t screams of disregard for young people”. They even questioned the future of Modern Foreign Language degrees because not being able to spend a significant amount of time living in the country whose language you are studying would “nullify the degree”. It is not an overstatement to suggest that if the government discontinues Erasmus+, the University will very much lose its credibility.
Even more upsetting for Barton and Torella is the pressure that this puts on the society to become politically involved. UKC Erasmus “tries to avoid being political” because they want to build communities based on “friendship” as opposed to politics. With a society as culturally vast as this one, it would be impossible to find a political stance that suits every single member of the society, and therefore they decide to remain impartial, stating that “we don’t just live in the UK, we live in an international society”. However, the aftereffects of Brexit risk dismantling one of the least politically motivated societies which would be a devastating blow to student morale given how crucial UKC Erasmus is to student integration and well-being.
Despite the positivity and cultural excellence that the Erasmus+ programme brings to the University, one thing remains clear; if the political climate remains as toxic, hostile, and uncertain as it is currently is, then it looks as though UKC may need to find a new slogan.