Trip no. 2: An Erasmus+ semester in Sweden

Keywords: UK, Sweden, Erasmus+, Erasmus Mundus, student, student mobility, education, immigration
Borders crossed: 2

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            I’m currently studying for a Master’s degree under the umbrella of the Erasmus Mundus programme  initiated by the European Commission. It’s much like any other Master’s degree – comprising courses, papers, credits and a final thesis – except that student mobility is at the very heart of the course. All students have to move to another university in another country for their second semester – and we’re supported financially by an Erasmus+ grant of circa €240 per month from EU funds. In my case, I had 8 different EU countries to choose from, from Italy to France, from Spain to Poland, from Germany to the Czech Republic. I personally chose to spend my first semester at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and then move to the University of Uppsala in Sweden.

         There’s only one thing I love more than travelling, and that’s moving to a new country, setting up a new life, integrating into a new culture and society, and learning about a new part of the world. So Erasmus Mundus is truly ideal for me. The logistics and admin of moving country is the initial headachey part, but having moved abroad eight times already in my life, by now I’m a seasoned pro. Fortunately, both the UK and Sweden are currently EU member states, so for me this move in January 2017 required no visa application, no immigration paperwork, no admission letter, no proof of financial support, no registration process for a Swedish identity number and no residence permit. I simply rocked up to London Heathrow airport, boarded a plane and disembarked 2.5 hours later in Stockholm Arlanda airport, a fresh immigrant into my new country: Sweden. I even sent over some of my luggage separately and, thanks to EU regulations, had no delay or extra fee for customs handling or import duty.

        Two of my fellow classmates from non-EU countries, Serbia and China, had a more arduous immigration process to start the same Master’s, with interviews at consulates, piles of paperwork, visa application fees of €300, residence permit, working bans, among other things. At the moment we can only speculate on what the immigration process will look like for UK citizens moving to the EU post-Brexit, as the rights of those 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK and the 1.2 million Brits in the EU are currently being negotiated as bargaining chips in UK-EU talks. I fear the days of my hassle-free move to Sweden will end, and only hope that it won’t be as arduous as the process that non-EU citizens currently endure.

         Beyond Brexit’s impact merely on the process and paperwork behind immigration, the wider concept of Erasmus+ is also under threat for UK students. This is the 30th anniversary year of the Erasmus+ programme, which has seen 9 million people take part since 1987 – 600,000 of those from the UK.[1] There is an even a so-called ‘Erasmus generation’ of young people within Europe who have experienced life in another country, boosted their employability, gained intercultural awareness and developed a strong sense of a transnational European identity as a result.[2] However, awareness rates in the UK are the lowest in the whole of the EU, with only 30% of people in the UK having ever heard of the Erasmus+ scheme.[3]

            Once the UK departs the EU, it is highly unlikely to receive any further Erasmus+ funding from the EU, leaving the UK government to foot the £113 million annual bill.[4] Other non-EU countries such as Norway and Iceland do pay into the scheme in order to participate, but they have both accepted the Schengen principle of free movement of people, which Brexiteers refuse to allow. Switzerland’s 2014 referendum to limit immigration in fact cost the country its Erasmus+ status, as Brussels responded by suspending Switzerland’s participation in the programme, forcing the Swiss government to instead fund and liaise bilateral exchanges with individual universities across Europe.

         It remains to be seen whether the UK will continue to take part in Erasmus+, the EU’s flagship cultural and educational initiative, and how the immigration process may change for British citizens emigrating to EU countries post-Brexit. These are just two of the unintended side effects of Brexit’s clampdown on immigration, which will unfortunately restrict the opportunities of British citizens to move, live, work, and study abroad.

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[1] “30 years of Erasmus+,” Erasmus+ UK, last modified February 2017, https://erasmusplus.org.uk/30-years-of-erasmus.
[2] Edoardo Campanella, “Time for the Erasmus generation to speak out,” Europe’s World, last modified November 22, 2016, http://europesworld.org/2016/11/22/time-erasmus-generation-speak/#.WYDrUWX5jww; “Erasmus Impact Study confirms EU student exchange scheme boosts employability and job mobility,” Radboud University, accessed July 15, 2017, http://www.ru.nl/io/english/students/outgoing-exchange/grants/erasmus-best-grant-programme-studying-internships/erasmus/erasmus-impact-study-confirms-eu-student-exchange/.
[3] “Standard Barometer 86: Public opinion in the European Union,” European Commission, last modified December 2016, http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/76422, page 34.
[4] Conor James McKinney, “British students and the EU,” Full Fact, last modified January 12, 2016, https://fullfact.org/europe/british-students-and-eu/.

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