At the 23rd of June, we will see if Britain brexits or bremains. But a British withdrawal from the European Union could mean big changes for British students in Lund.
With the British EU–referendum approaching, British student Michael Igoe started to worry about his future at Lund University.
“If the UK decides to exit the European Union on the 23rd of June, will Lund University impose tuition fees for me?” he asked himself.
Concerns not far fetched
The concerns of the 22-year-old British student with shaggy blond hair are not far–fetched. While the campaigns of the political camps start to fall into place, many outcomes of a potential “Brexit” remain uncertain.
Many of these insecurities affect the future of British students living outside the UK – including about 250 studying in Lund. Master student Michael Igoe is one of them. He is afraid that his education could abruptly turn into an expensive venture. Michael certainly knows where he would put his cross on the 23rd of June – nonetheless, he is not allowed to vote.
He grew up in Belgium and now he lives in Sweden. In order to register for the referendum, he would have to move back to the UK.
“Normally, people can register even if they live abroad, but not if they have lived abroad for over 15 years”, Michael explains.
“I have no saying over my future”
However, Michael lived in England between 2011 and 2014. Still, the election office in Britain has no record of him. The reason being that he did not register for any elections.
“The thing is, there were no elections I could have registered for”, he says, “Now I have no say over my own future. I think if I would only be allowed to vote once in my life – this would be it.”
With the day of the referendum closing in, Michael contacted the University to clarify at least his concerns over the tuition fees. Luckily, the University’s reply put him at ease:
“In case Britain votes to leave the Union, a minimum of two years would pass before the University could change the regulations for tuition fees”, he says.
Within this timeframe, he will finish his Master’s degree in Global Studies. Michael is delighted. He won’t have to pay – nor do all other 250 students from the UK in Lund.
Future brits might not be as lucky
Future British students of Lund University might not be as lucky. Currently, students from Great Britain are exempt from paying. Julian Nowag, lecturer at The Department of Law at Lund University, explains why:
“This is based on one of the EU’s most valuable principles – the general principle of non-discrimination. It requires every Member State to treat all EU–citizens in the same way.”
In relation to the tuition fees, this means that Sweden cannot charge students from other EU countries, as long as they do not charge their own citizens.
Suddenly, the British membership referendum could change that. Lundagård asked what happens to the tuition fees if a member state decides to leave the Union:
“The University can impose tuition fees on students who are neither from the European Union nor a state having a separate treaty that somehow contains the principle of non-discrimination.”
Will not be immediate
But until this happens, it will take a minimum of two years for Britain to formally leave the EU.
“In order to exit, a member state has to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. This article regulates the withdrawal of a member state.” Julian Nowag explains, “Once this article is triggered, Britain has two years to negotiate a new treaty with the EU.”
Principle of non-discrimination will be decisive
While in this two-year process, the United Kingdom remains a full member of the EU – and thereby, students like Michael won’t have to pay tuition fees. What happens to the tuition fees after that will depend on the new treaty and if it contains the principle of non-discrimination.
Since those in the UK campaigning to leave the EU criticize the very same principle, it is doubtful that it could be part of a new treaty. In case all of this happens and Britain votes to leave on the 23rd of June, the University will discuss what happens to future students that are enrolled but will not finish their degree in time. Until then, Britsh students in Lund remain uncertain.
Article: Kevin Witzenberger