Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stated during a meeting of European socialist leaders held earlier this week that he would like to see students from the United Kingdom who are studying at universities in the European Union receive EU citizenship.
“If a British student decides to spend two, three, four years in a European university, we are studying now if it is possible to give him a European passport,” Matteo Renzi told reporters in Brussels.
Renzi said the plan was also discussed at a previous meeting he attended in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. According to Reuters, he added that many throughout European Union, from politicians to university officials, feel the Brexit to be a disadvantage for the youth of Britain. He said:
“We are really sad for the new generation, particularly the new generation who lives and studies in the UK, but this is democracy.”
The proposal could be popular among British students who are now uncertain about their future options and rights as they study in EU countries after the recent EU referendum.
Jo Shelley of CNN writes that poll taken shortly before the referendum vote found 73% of voters under the age of 25 wanted to remain a part of the EU. The national margin was found to be 52-48% in favor of leaving on the June 23 vote.
Renzi, however, is cautious about the next move:
“[We will study] if it’s possible to give him a European passport – Italian, French or German. But for now, nothing is sure,” said Mr Renzi.
While Renzi said a final decision had not been made on the idea, significant legal issues could get in the way. In order to avoid illegal discrimination, EU countries who grant citizenship to UK students could be forced to extend the same offer to students studying from other countries.
Meanwhile, the UK universities minister Jo Johnson has already reassured EU students studying at schools in the UK, telling those already enrolled as well as those set to begin this fall that their funding would be honored as long as they remain enrolled in the school.
In addition, Goldsmiths, University of London has promised that it would freeze tuition rates for EU students up to and including courses beginning in 2018-19. Doing so ensures students that their status will not change as long as they are studying, reports Sean Coughlan for the BBC.
Currently, students from the EU are treated equally to students from the UK and pay the same tuition fees. However, if EU students are to be considered “international” students, their fees would end up being much higher.
UK universities are also looking for a better understanding of how the Brexit vote will affect research funding. Data from the Royal Society finds the UK received €8.8 billion in direct EU research funding between 2007 and 2013 while contributing €5.4 billion. While the UK could pay to become an “associate” member of the EU’s research program, it would lose all control over how any research was directed.
Renzi, however, remains committed to expanding options for UK students within the EU:
“The people who study in European universities, in my view, must have the European citizenship and the European passports, so I’m ready to create some initiatives for the people who come from the UK,” Renzi said.