Reading Le Petit Prince by Saint Exupéry I found an interesting quote that can be applied to the UK and Brexit: “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” For the Fox in Le Petit Prince, this means that the titular Prince will be forever responsible for maintaining the bond that he has created between him and the animal.
I also personally interpret this quote in regard to the responsibility those we choose to represent us have towards us in a representative democracy. We give them the reasonability to represent us, to speak and to vote on our behalf. In doing so, we expect them to make the best decision for us whilst thinking about our futures.
Last week MPs voted against the New Clause 10 of the Brexit Bill which would have required the Government to seek to negotiate continuing full membership of the EU’s Erasmus+ education and youth programme.
Voting against this clause does not necessarily mean that the UK will not continue full membership of Erasmus+. However, it suggests that doing so will not be a priority for the UK government during its negotiations with the EU, and leaves me feeling that many MPs do not care about our young people’s futures.
In a nutshell, the Erasmus programme funds opportunities for EU students to spend time in each others’ nations and experience each others’ cultures and languages. In 2015 the UK was awarded over €113 million in Erasmus funding. This does not only benefit academic institutions but also individuals as they will have greater empathy and understanding of cultures and languages outside their own.
Having had the opportunity myself to live in France over the past two years whilst studying at Sciences Po Paris’ Latin American campus, I’ve had the great opportunity to live within an incredible international community which has allowed me to learn about the numerous cultures of the world. Not only has it forced me to improve my linguistic skills, it has also force me to become more resilient by living in an unfamiliar environment.
It has also taught me to be more understanding of others, and fully appreciate their cultures. Being only one of two students from the UK on the campus, I’ve had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in both the Latino and French cultures.
I would have never come across experiences such as this if I had stayed to study within the UK.
Beyond cutting off the millions of Erasmus funding coming into our own universities, there are a number of dangers to pulling out of the programme.
Firstly, there is a danger that the people of the UK become more closed-minded. This could also have an influence on those we elect to govern us, as we favour protectionist governments and a move away from the international community.
Secondly, limiting such finance will lead to greater economic inequalities that’ll evolve into social inequalities. This means that the richest tier of society will be able to afford such opportunities whilst the poorest will not, creating a block for social mobility.
The UK already has the highest levels of inequalities in Europe, and opting out of educational programmes such as Erasmus+ will only make things worse.
Today, we can argue that the divides between the social classes have been blurred due to the fact that those born into working-class families are able to have careers that were formerly considered to be only available to the social elite. However, if we are moving back to limiting opportunities – this will not be possible. Social classes will solidify again, if anything in a far more striking way.
Thirdly, it also poses a risk to the study of modern languages. In 2018, entries for A-level German were down -33%. Whilst entries for A-level Spanish were down -12%. Eliminating Erasmus+ would have a further negative effect on those studying modern languages as it would limit them the opportunity to study abroad and to perfect their linguistic abilities.
An increase in monolingualism could also have an impact on attitudes towards Britain’s indigenous languages, such as Welsh.
Young people and children are the most vulnerable within our society. They depend on adults to make the best decisions with for their futures. The Erasmus+ programme allows our young people to grow so that they can become good citizens within our societies.
Educational opportunities will help our young people to grow academically and personally. Having such opportunities whilst studying abroad will help our young people to become more open and understanding of other cultures.
Losing Erasmus+ will create inequalities and will disadvantage some of our brightest individuals. Hence, I hope that our politicians will save Erasmus+. If they do not do so, we will be counting the cost for decades to come.