Lately, my newsfeed has been flooded with the term “Brexit”. Upon first glance, it sounds like the name of Subway’s latest sandwich – catchy names don’t necessarily promise great flavour, mind you. Years of social media prowess has taught me better than to fall for the lure of hashtags and clickbait headlines.
Imagine my surprise when, within a matter of hours, Brexit became the most trending topic on social media. Turns out, “Brexit” is an abbreviation of “Britain” and “exit” (from European Union). As of now, Brexit is a stark reality. In a public vote held in the UK on June 23, more than 17.4 million people voted in favour of Britain’s separation from the EU, whereas, 16.1 million voted against it.
Before we can understand the significance of this separation in Britain’s geopolitical sphere, we’ve got to understand why EU was established in the first place. After World War II, European leaders saw an urgent need for integration within Europe to combat the racist extremism that had destroyed the continent.
This intent materialised into the EU comprised of 28 member states, including the UK. Think of it as the binding contract between the Goblet of Fire and the Triwizard champions (Harry Potter reference, anyone?). Initially, the EU was created in order to allow people to move freely across European borders in search of jobs, inadvertently causing economic growth and a greater tolerance towards people from diverse backgrounds.
The EU facilitates this by removing restrictions such as tariffs, and passport controls, among other things. Take a second and imagine the implications of this – if you woke up today in Belgium craving authentic Italian pizzas, you could just go to Italy because what’s stopping you?
Facts and figures don’t accurately convey the dire consequences this segregation can bring about worldwide. Britain’s fate in the years to come will depend largely on the negotiations with the EU, which could span two years unless Article 50 – a process of formally cutting ties with the EU – is activated. Fortunately, no one seems to be in a hurry to do that. While, as a Bangladeshi, you may wonder ‘how does this affect us?’, we have more to lose than you might think.
“Brexit could cost a lot of jobs for graduates in the UK, thus, affecting existing and prospective Bangladeshi students. Moreover, the future immigration policy for Britain looks negative, which could discourage Bangladeshi students even more. Initially, I was quite interested to apply to UK for higher studies.
But it doesn’t seem like the best decision anymore.” said Troyee, an A Level student from Chittagong Grammar School. A country where the majority has voted in favour of stricter immigration policies isn’t likely to give a second thought to immigrants during an economic downturn. Bangladeshi immigrants – comprising largely of students – residing in Britain might possibly be among the first to lose their full-time or part-time job security.
Moreover, one of the biggest attractions of studying in the UK is the easy access to European countries. Brexit can potentially cut off this access, making travelling highly difficult. Perhaps one of the most important messages that this conveys is one of racial intolerance. “I personally feel as though the Brexit vote is nothing but the result of a media propaganda based on fear-mongering, racism and false facts – similar to the Trump campaign,” said Rainul Islam, Barrister-at-law, and a graduate of King’s College, London.
Not all might be gloom and doom though. Demand for higher education in the UK is also largely dependent on the value of the pound.
Think of it this way, if you’re about to study at the University of Bedfordshire and the value of the pound decreases relative to your home currency, then your university becomes more affordable for you. This means you’ll need less of your home currency to pay for basic amenities abroad.
If the pound continues to devalue, it could be a plus point for Bangladeshi students planning to study in the UK. Furthermore, decreased competition from EU applicants could make it easier for Bangladeshi students to qualify for the top universities in the UK. “I think our opportunities are likely to increase in the UK. If all internationals are treated equally, every deserving student will have equal chances irrespective of their nationality,” said Sharia Bahar, LLB, City University London.
However, many academic institutions in the UK are heavily reliant on EU funds for research. While universities have come out and stated that Brexit doesn’t necessarily indicate funding cuts, it’s a plausible scenario.
This could mean higher tuition fees being imposed on students to alleviate the hit on university funds, with international students bearing the brunt of this cost. This would counteract efforts to recruit a culturally diverse student body as the scales would shift in favour of affluent individuals.
“There is a real possibility of rankings of UK Universities suffering too, due to difficulties in recruiting the best students and professors alike from the EU. This could reduce the overall standard of the quality of education.” added Rainul Islam.
At the moment, the only thing we can say with confidence is that Britain is in uncharted waters, faced with a tremendous amount of uncertainty. Over the past few months, the Brexit has been the subject of debate by both the informed and uninformed; everyone has their two pennies to add.
This article, however, acknowledges the futility of trying to reach a decisive verdict on the matter and instead wants to draw attention to one of Brexit’s primary implications for us: education in the UK for Bangladeshi students is about to get a whole lot more difficult. We cannot specify when, why, or even by how much.
But like they say, prevention is better than cure. If our students are to brace for the financial and legal backlash that will inevitably follow the separation, it is vital to reassess the gain-to-strain payoff for studying in the UK, and seriously evaluate alternatives in other regions.