International Campus

Brexit: Students’ ‘equal rights’ promised in agreement

The latest high-pressured talks in Brussels between UK government and European Union on Brexit have ended in agreement. The negotiation document sets out the future of the Irish border, the financial settlement, and crucially, citizens’ rights. Included in the document is a promise that students will be afforded “equal treatment”, moving forward.

The negotiators will now embark on the second part of the talks, trade negotiations. Though it remains to be seen how the trade talks will effect international education, the promise of fair treatment for students residing either in the bloc or in the UK after Brexit is now set out on paper.

“Their rights will remain the same after the UK has left the European Union”

The European Students’ Union in Brussels welcomed this news, with president Helge Schwitters telling The PIE News it is “positive for student mobility”. However, ESU is cautious as the deal is far from done. Schwitters added that it will “follow closely the next phase of negotiations”.

This paragraph simultaneously sets out the rights for workers and the self-employed, and could give assurance to professionals working in education across Europe, as well as the students in their institutions.

This is not a promise of programs such as Erasmus continuing, but it does mean that both UK students and EU students will be afforded equal rights to healthcare, social benefits, and education (including HE) and training when residing across borders.

President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker described this part of the agreement as bringing “back the certainty”, saying that it will protect the choices made by EU citizens before the Brexit vote.

“We have made sure that their rights will remain the same after the UK has left the European Union. This is in particular the case for: EU citizens’ right to live, work and study,” Juncker said.

“[We] encourage the Government to put the agreement on citizens’ rights into law as soon as possible”

For mature students and academics, the document may hold further positive messages, as the family of a UK or EU citizen will be allowed to join them – as long as they were related on the date of UK-EU separation. This right is a lifetime right, and is included to ensure that families are not split by Brexit due to cross-border work or study.

Although residence permits will be needed by foreign citizens after Brexit, and citizens will have to make applications as such, there will be a two-year window for this application to be made and accepted. Furthermore, the agreement states that “the host State will avoid any unnecessary administrative burdens” in this process.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, commented on this point in a statement, saying the agreement on citizens’ rights was important for all in the UK HE sector.

“Today’s announcement means that the 46,000 EU nationals working across the UK university sector have clarity that they can remain and work in the UK and gain settled status,” he said.

Importantly, once this permanent residence is secured, citizens will not be allowed to live outside of the nation of residence for any period over five consecutive years. Doing so will lead to the status being revoked.

It is understood that a promise by the UK government to keep up its commitments past 2020 is an indication that the UK will remain part of Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ until at least the end of the current EU budget period.

The chief executive of the Russell Group in the UK said this announcement was “welcome”, saying it will “help ensure future academic collaboration with international partners is not undermined”.

Tim Bradshaw added that the group “would encourage the [UK] Government to put the terms of the agreement on citizens’ rights into UK law as soon as possible.”