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Statement on the opening of negotiations to leave the European Union

Monday 19 June 2017

Today sees the start of the process of negotiating the country’s exit from the European Union. This is a disappointing day for the National Union of Students. We campaigned to remain, and were devastated by the result which our members tell us they did not want.

We urge the Prime Minister and her negotiating team to listen to students. The students of today want to play a positive role, not one in which our global role is to exploit and lecture but one in which we build a “Global Britain” together, one based on collaboration and understanding.

Leaving the EU puts years of academic collaboration and student participation at risk. Whilst the UK will retain its membership of the European Higher Education Area (the Bologna Process), it will lose access to Erasmus+ funding that enables students to seize the opportunity to study and work abroad, an experience our members tell is transformational and from our research we know it enhances student employability by 23 per cent. Employers place value on students who have taken this path and NUS takes the view that at this critical point in our Island’s history we need internationally literate graduates more than ever, graduates who can easily form cross cultural professional relationships, effective networks and who understand and respect other countries. Without Erasmus+ support we fear that this opportunity will only open to the wealthiest in our society.

In her speech on 17 January the Prime Minister indicated that she wanted the UK to be fairer, united and outward looking, open to international talent, attracting the brightest and the best indicating that she would consider joining EU initiatives if they were in the national interest.

NUS takes the view that preserving student and academic mobility, along with access to research collaborations in which the UK is a lead player is critical to the future success and prosperity of our country and is in the national interest.

We hear with concern the negative narrative around International students which hardly chimes with the Prime Minister’s stated objectives. We believe they should be removed from the net migration figures and recognised for the contribution they make both financially and academically to our higher education system.

We welcome the continued guarantees on funding that have been provided for EU students studying now, and those due to start this year. But with EU student applications already falling, it is not enough for those guarantees to be on a rolling basis and an annual whim – students looking to come and study at any time before our formal withdrawal must know they will have security and certainty.  

So we ask that the negotiating team ensure that:

  • The UK retains its access to the Erasmus+ programme and continues to encourage UK students to study abroad and EU students to study in the UK. Student mobility around Europe is integral to transformational educational experiences.  

  • Those students who are already studying here are allowed to complete their studies, they should not be treated as bargaining chips.

  • Academics who are living, working and contributing to the student experience in the UK should be allowed immediate right to remain.

  • UK universities need to retain the ability to forge academic and research partnerships through the EU and draw down funds accordingly.

  • Students should not be made to suffer because of the harmful rhetoric around Brexit International students have become easy targets, both on campuses and through government policies, urgent action is needed to show that international students are welcome. To do this, they must be removed from net migration figures.

We believe these measures to be clearly in the national interest and we hope that the UK negotiating team will act in the best interests of our students, our academics and our world class institutions.


For further comment please contact NUS Press office 07866 695 010 

The National Union of Students is a voluntary membership organisation which makes a real difference to the lives of students and its member students' unions.

We are a confederation of 600 students' unions, amounting to more than 95 per cent of all higher and further education unions in the UK. Through our member students' unions, we represent the interests of more than seven million students. We promote, defend and extend the rights of students and develop and champion strong students’ unions.