Fenella Kwong, Master's student of Human Technology Interaction, felt a sense of relief last month when the letter from the Immigration and Naturalisation service (IND) landed on her doormat. And that same feeling must also have been shared by other Brits who received that missive. The gist was as follows: they can stay on in our country at least until mid 2020 under the same conditions as now - even if there's a 'hard Brexit'. Among other things, this means that students will continue to pay the institutional rate and won't be asked to pay the much higher rate of tuition fee that applies to students from outside the EU. And an employer will not, for the time being at least, have to arrange for residence permit.
This doesn't diminish the fact that many Brits have experienced a lengthy period of uncertainty and still do not know what the future holds over the long term. Fenella Kwong's initial concern - she holds both Australian and British citizenship - was whether she would be able to complete her studies here - and could continue paying the same amount of tuition fee. But she has other worries too. “As I am about to start my thesis next semester, I was thinking whether I need to do a project that is more UK-based, in case I need to be working from the UK, and/or whether I should just pick a topic that may not be what I really want, to ensure I graduate on time to avoid any additional fees. And in the long run, I expect the cost of living in Great Britain to increase, but I expect it will be some years before all that takes effect.”
When asked for her opinion about Brexit, Kwong has this pithy comment to make. “I can only say, ‘You can't have your cake and eat it’. And the whole malarkey about more referendums, I just don't know what democracy means anymore.”
For Jackie Edwards, nearing completion of her degree at Industrial Design, the outcome of the Brexit talks is pretty crucial. She was born and raised in the United States, but also has British nationality. It is her British passport that entitles her to study in the Netherlands. “Right now I don't have a visa on my US passport, and I don't know whether I'll need one as and when I start looking for a job.” If all goes according to plan, Edwards will have finished her studies by March 29th and is doing her best to stay abreast of developments so that she can act quickly and file the necessary paperwork. “For job interviews I need to have a ready answer to the question of whether I would need a visa if they were to hire me. I know that some companies won't even consider you if you need a visa. I am trying to read only the official news bulletins, otherwise it all gets too confusing.”
Jackie thinks ‘Brexit is a glamorized hoax that used false information to scare the country into leaving’. “The country will have to spend more on trade agreements than they would have just to be in the EU.”
Her family avoids this topic of conversation. “It starts fights, so we just don't bring it up anymore. Most voted to stay in the EU, but one family member voted ‘leave’ and that caused a bit of an uproar. I do talk to my friends about it though, and the mom of one of my friends works at the IND and she has been very helpful. And sometimes I can laugh about the whole situation, which I did recently with my project coach and PhD candidate. I told them I wanted to stay here for a bit, since both my home countries are a bit of a mess right now.”
Eilis Kinsella is a third-year student of Industrial Design and is glad that she has both British and Irish nationality. She grew up in the United Kingdom but deliberately swapped her British passport - when it expired in 2016 - for an Irish one. “In order to avoid possible repercussions from Brexit while I was living in the Netherlands.”
Not that this has resolved all her fears. “I still worry about my family and friends who live in England and don't have any other nationalities. I also worry what it will be like if I want to move back to the UK after my studies. I often wonder if I should just stay in mainland Europe?”
Kinsella talks about this subject regularly with her family. “We are all disappointed that it is happening and are unsure about the future for us and our country. I have a British housemate here in Eindhoven who voted for the UK to leave the EU and I often discuss with him his reasons, what he thinks will happen and whether he regrets his vote. I think the information that was given to the public before the first vote was not at all realistic. I would love there to be a second public referendum where the public has been provided better information about what the consequences of leaving the EU would be.”
Kayla Fenwick is a third-year Bachelor's student of Industrial Design and was born and raised in Canada - but because her parents were born in the United Kingdom she has that country's nationality too. “I'm worried that Brexit will increase my tuition to the point where I cannot afford it anymore.”
This probably will not affect my Bachelor's because I am almost finished but I'm worried I won't be able to get a Master's degree here. I also worry that I will have issues relating to my permanent residence if a deal is not made. I hope it doesn't come to that, but for now there is a lot of uncertainty.”
Fenwick thinks Brexit is ‘ridiculous’ and believes it could and should have been avoided. “I don't think it should go through at all, soft or hard. Theresa May should hold another referendum and the British people should vote to stay in the EU. I understand that this could be seen as betraying the trust of the people. However, they were not given all the facts at the time of the first referendum. I wasn't eligible to vote because I have never lived in the UK but it affects me just as much as a UK resident.”
She tries not to worry too much about Brexit, but finds that isn't always easy. “I talk about Brexit occasionally with my family and friends but it's not my favorite topic.”
From the TU/e service Education and Student Affairs we know that at present twenty-eight students with British nationality are studying at TU/e. Director Patrick Groothuis tells us he is pleased that there has lately been more clarity on this subject. He is referring to the recent parliamentary letter written by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, which states that British students who are here can continue to study under the same conditions until midway through 2020. “As far as we know, the ministry's position is that students from the United Kingdom who were enrolled with us before ‘the Brexit date’ can complete their program under the old conditions. New students or students who start a new program are not covered by the transition arrangement and must pay the tuition fee at a higher rate.
“The Brexit world is in a constant state of flux. Via VSNU (the federation of Dutch universities, ed.) we received further information last week explaining the parliamentary letter sent in January. It is evident from this source that if a British Bachelor's student is studying with us before the Brexit date, the student may also follow the Master's with us under the old conditions.”
Study or internship
According to Personnel and Organization (DPO), there are now thirty-two Brits working at TU/e. Willem van Hoorn, Internationalization Advisor, informs us that neither he nor various colleagues have received any worrying reactions from TU/e employees on this subject.
Another target group that may be affected when the United Kingdom breaks away from the European Union are Dutch TU/e students who are due to go to the UK to study or do an internship. Petri van de Vorst, a member of staff at the ESA's International Office says, “TU/e students are still going to the UK on exchange programs and to do internships, to both universities and companies. As yet I'm not seeing any change in the numbers. At an international conference, I attended a session on exchanges with the UK post-Brexit. We were told that various scenarios have been prepared, but that no one actually knows what will happen.”
TU/e student Hanneke Crielaard, who is staying in the English city of Southampton for her internship, had no doubts about her destination before she set off. “I did a bit of checking in advance to find out whether it would have any consequences for me as a student, but no one had any answers for me. That's awful if you don't like uncertainty, I was confident however that things would be fine. If things turn out to be less well organized here just after Brexit, I'll cross that bridge when I come to it and, of course, that will be an experience in itself. Moreover my internship is divided up into three months in England and three months in the Netherlands. If the worst comes to the worst, I can always extend the part in the Netherlands.” All around her she is seeing that Britons are preoccupied with 'everyday life' rather than with Brexit. But she has been struck by something else. “I have spoken with internationals who want to visit the UK precisely in this period, to see how things unfold here.”
Impact on our university's collaboration
What impact will Brexit have on our university's collaboration with British parties? Like most other universities, TU/e is a member of consortiums whose participants include British institutes. Gerard Verschuren, Head of the Research Support Office at the Innovation Lab, informs us that researchers at our university often ask him what the consequences of Brexit will be for these cooperative alliances. “I refer them to the official standpoint of the British government, which is that if Brexit goes ahead, the British government guarantees to pay the money that stops coming from Brussels. Actually I think the consequences won't be all that bad. British partners aren't going to pull out suddenly, and even if that were to happen, it wouldn't be an insurmountable problem. By contrast, I've been noticing for the past two years that when a new proposal is on the table, doubts are voiced about whether to let partners in the UK participate. And that a thought is also circulating: ‘Let's not leave the coordination to them’.” Verschuren estimates that our university is involved in ‘dozens of projects and consortiums’ in which the British are also participating, and that is no less or more than other Dutch universities. “Once a new phase begins we'll have to reassess the possible consequences.”
The Executive Board is also well aware of the impact Brexit may have, but the issue isn't high on its agenda, as Board President Jan Mengelers lets us know. Purely because the consequences will very likely remain limited, and he has picked up few signals within the university. “It will affect us, but not greatly. Similarly, VSNU is giving the matter some attention, but not a huge amount. In any event, the universities are of one mind, and it is good that the Dutch government has now made reasonable arrangements.”
TU/e has no plans to embark on any far-reaching collaborations with British universities, as Mengelers confirms. “Nothing like Maastricht's involvement with York is envisaged here.” It was announced recently that the universities of Maastricht and Britain's York will be collaborating closely. Over the coming three years they will be investing more than three million euros in joint research programs and postgraduate teaching.
On the other hand, Mengelers does hope that Imperial College London will join EuroTech (a cooperative alliance between TU/e and a handful of other European universities, ed.). “We've asked them before but at the time they didn't want to. Who knows, perhaps they'll see the benefits of it after Brexit.” The Board President also sees opportunities for attracting academics. “I'm thinking of foreign researchers in the UK who no longer feel at home there, who feel unsettled and want to leave.”
For the time being, the effects of Brexit remain a matter of conjecture, but one thing is sure: a good many people would benefit from simply having more clarity. At any rate, there will be some who don't have the same options as students holding dual nationality. Fenella Kwong, “If it goes belly up, I can always go to Australia.”
The Dutch cabinet has proposed a transition period of fifteen months starting on the date on which the United Kingdom withdraws from the EU. During this period British citizens who were legally entitled to reside in the Netherlands prior to the UK's withdrawal from the EU will retain their rights to residence, education and work in the Netherlands. The same applies to family members of British citizens who do not themselves hold EU citizenship.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs recently told the Lower House that ‘the cabinet intends to ensure that all British citizens who are resident in the Netherlands on the date of the UK's withdrawal from the EU are able to (continue to) study here under the same conditions as other EU citizens. This means that for British citizens who are already in the Netherlands, the statutory tuition fee will continue to apply and they will retain the right to student financing provided they satisfy the other conditions imposed on EU citizens.’
British students who come to the Netherlands after Brexit will be regarded as citizens from outside the European Economic Area if a ‘no-deal’ Brexit goes ahead. In that case, they will pay the higher institutional tuition fee and will receive no student financing.
Brits in the Netherlands have by now received a letter about the no-deal scenario from the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND). These letters vary according to the recipient's circumstances: in possession of a permanent residence permit or does not have a permanent residence permit. For the time being, both categories can stay, but the latter only for the duration of the agreed transition period (until July 1st, 2020).
Participants in the Erasmus+ program who will be in the United Kingdom on March 29th of this year are allowed to complete their exchange and will retain the right to financial support during the remainder of their stay. This was recently announced by the European Commission. Similarly, participants from the United Kingdom who are staying in one of the twenty-seven EU countries are allowed to complete their studies, internship or exchange program.
The British Prime Minister Theresa May has stated that the United Kingdom is keen to continue to participate in the European science programs, such as Horizon2020, but that this depends on the costs involved and on the influence the UK can continue to exert on the program. Either way, until the end of 2020 the United Kingdom will remain in Horizon2020, but it is not yet known what will happen after that date.