11 art students share their hopes and fears about the eu referendum

If the UK votes to leave the EU on Thursday, generations to come will change in an instant. While concerns around immigration and sovereignty dominate the discourse, the potential impact on the creative industries is often overlooked. Here, a number...

by Chekii Harling and i-D Staff
21 June 2016, 4:20pm

philip ellis

We're on the brink of an important political decision: to stay or not to stay. The power has been placed in the hands of UK citizens as they complete the tick sheet which will affect the lives of generations to come.

European art students are questioning whether or not they'll be able to complete their degrees and follow their creative dreams, while UK students are preoccupied by the fact that their freedom of movement may be restricted. Many UK students share fashion design student Liza's view that, "It's scary to think that you won't be able to just pack your bags and be creative somewhere else. Getting a visa is expensive and it takes time, by leaving the EU we'd be putting barriers up where they don't need to be."

An education in the arts is already elitist, especially in London where the cost of living has got so high it's almost a really unfunny joke. However, regardless of the multiplying £ signs, the EU arts students that I speak to are in awe of everything about London. It offers them an education which is highly recognizable internationally and in an environment where people feel free to express themselves. It's a forward-thinking city which is saturated in it's own cultural history. Everywhere you look there is fuel to feed the young creative brain.

EU students who study in England currently pay the same university fees as UK home students (£9,000, or roughly $11,000 per year), but if the UK decides to leave the European Union, this will no longer be the case. EU students would have to apply on the same basis as International Students who pay the eye-wateringly high £15,000, or $20,000 per year. Will an education in the arts soon only be available to the Princesses, the privileged, and the British born-and-bred? Here's what the art students themselves have to say on the matter:

"The solution to the EU crisis is integration! London would lose its creative spirit as talented individuals will leave and the next generation just won't enter in the first place. If the UK leaves the EU then I and many others will be forced to move out and adapt to a new environment, culture, and educational system." Elizabeth (19, Bulgaria, Womenswear)

"The UK's creative energy attracts people from different nations; this makes it a city which is moving and renewing all the time. If the UK votes OUT then these sparkling minds will move on for the same reason why they left their home country in the first place." Julianna (24, Budapest, Fashion Journalism)

"If we left the EU we would see a huge decrease in cultural diversity and there would be less creative people in London. If you walk around Central Saint Martins, you'll see that it's filled with EU and overseas students. We get to learn about all of these other cultures; it's really exciting to be around. UK students would have to get a visa to go to all these countries. Why do other people have to decide that for us?!!" Liza (20, UK, Fashion Design)

"I want the UK to leave the EU. Norway is part of the EAA which means we get the same benefits when it comes to freedom of movement and working in the EU countries, but we get to keep our sovereignty. The downside is that the UK wouldn't have a say in Brussels, which I don't think would be the end of the world. Norway is doing pretty well without it." Josie (20, Norway, Fashion Journalism)

Norway participates in the Erasmus program, but has a completely different relationship with Europe. The EEA (European Economic Area) is a trading organization which allows free movement of goods and people. Norway has more freedom and doesn't bow down to Brussels. The downside is that students pay international fees, which Josie describes as "torturous for Norwegian students." If the UK adopted this approach, it would exacerbate the fact that a degree in the arts is now elitist, as the fees for EU students would hit those dangerous double figures.

"Rising fees for EU students is discriminatory. It's like, 'if you're not from this little tiny Island then you're not good enough.' Leaving would highlight that the wealthy are taking over the political institutions, and have never been fans of us crazy art students." Tymber (19, LA, Costume)

"London is currently appealing because anyone can fit in here. If the UK leaves the EU then all art students will be English, and that's going to stop people from thinking outside the box. Being around all these different people inspires me, and I think that fashion will suffer, as each culture brings its unique sense of style." Laura (19, Lithuania, Pattern Cutting)

"Leaving the EU would be a selfish decision. What's so great about London is that it's a multicultural city! Yet I do believe that the fees should be the same for everyone. There are lots of talented international students, but I feel the universities give them preference because of the amount of money they're paying" Blué (23, UK, Photography)

"If the UK left the EU it would ruin my plan to study an MA at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. I'm also more European than British, and want to travel and work in European capital cities such as Milan and Berlin." Alice (19, Brussels, Art & Design Foundation)

"If the fees weren't £9000 a year I wouldn't be here. I currently get 500 euros from the Finnish government each month, and live on the bare minimum once I have paid my rent. I wrote a letter to a Finnish newspaper expressing my anger and concerns about the fact that they are proposing to turn this money into a loan. I received a hateful response from people who said that it was my choice to study in England and that I should deal with the consequences." Sara (20, Finland, Journalism)

"The media only tells you want you to hear. I will, however, probably vote for Britain to remain in the EU. Like my old man used to say: 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.'" Graeme (21, UK, Graphic Design)

"If the UK leaves the EU then there will be no guarantee that I'll be able to continue living here. For me, it will shut many many doors. I'm already a foreigner in this country, but I don't want to feel like I don't belong here. We already feel at a disadvantage." Iulia (20, Romania,  Drama & Theatre)

Many UK art students, myself included, dream of working in their creative fields in EU countries. Nigel Carrington, Vice Chancellor of the University of the Arts London, has said that leaving the EU would make this process a lot harder. "We've had a 50% increase in the number of our students going abroad to study under the Erasmus program over the last three years."

Having the opportunity to study alongside people who come from interesting cultural backgrounds is an exciting advantage which inspires and catalyzes creative collaborations at any art school. Yet it seems that England, as Florentine puts it, "Is a place to experience and collect knowledge rather than a place to stay." EU and international students come here not just for the educational benefits, but to immerse themselves in this unique, inspiring city. However, in the majority of cases it's temporary. Many recognize that they can't be creative and financially comfortable, so they head back to their homelands, or seek out a new creative habitat.

On the importance of making your voice count, Liza adds: "You don't get to complain if you don't vote. I think everyone should; it takes five minutes out of your time and there are polling stations everywhere. Whatever you believe, there's no excuse not to!"


Text Chekii Harling
Photography Anabel Navarro Llorens

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Central St. Martins
Central Saint Martins
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