Monday, 25 July 2016


The European Union's exchange programme, the European Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS), has had over 3.3 million participants since its establishment in 1987 (European Commission, 2014). The programme offers an interesting contrast with the Fulbright Program. The U.S. has, at times, struggled to balance foreign policy impacts on the programme with calls to preserve its apolitical, academic nature. The European Union, on the other hand, created its exchange program with explicitly political aims. It was part of a greater ‘People’s Europe’ project in the 1980's, created to strengthen public support for integration and foster a European identity amongst the young people who participated in the study abroad programme. Most studies have found that ERASMUS students feel more 'European' after the exchange experience, and often go on to internationally-oriented careers (Papatsiba, 2005; Teichler and Janson, 2007; Mitchell, 2012; etc.).

 In 2010, a surprising study found ERASMUS participants reporting lower levels of European identity at the end of their sojourn. Emmanuel Sigalas, the author from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, offers two potential explanations for this unexpected result. One possibility is that participants began the sojourn with a strong European identity, which meant “there is more scope for deterioration rather than improvement.” (Sigalas, 2010, p. 260). The more convincing explanation, however, is that the host country may have had a significant effect: the incoming students in this particular study were in the UK. “It is important to note that incoming students came to study in one of the most Eurosceptic countries of the EU, where…people are amongst the least likely in Europe to identify as European.” (ibid., pp. 260-261). 
Now, the interesting part about this finding, given the Brexit results: four out of the nine UK universities included in the study were located in places that voted to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum. This suggests that students may have been exposed to Eurosceptic attitudes during their sojourn, which could undermine attempts to forge a European identity. In hindsight, it appears that Sigalas' findings might be explained by the simple fact that his subjects went to places like Keele and Southampton, which voted to leave (69% and 53%, respectively).

On a related note, The Guardian had a piece on the uncertain post-Brexit future of ERASMUS yesterday.  The exchange programme relies on basic EU tenets, free movement of people and capital, to operate across the 27 member states. The UK might join the list of countries outside of the EU that participate in ERASMUS fully: Iceland, Macedonia, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey. Alternatively, it might go the way of Switzerland and be a "partner country" not a "programme country" (the long list of partner countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe, have a more limited scope in terms of the types of exchanges that they can host). I'm sure the ERASMUS generation who voted to remain in the EU are hoping for Britain to keep its "partner" status.

A couple of interesting bits from the article:

"Ironically, Erasmus has its genesis in the UK: its founding father was Dr. Hywel Ceri Jones, among the early senior British appointments to the EEC, to head its first education and training department. He had worked with Professor Asa Briggs at Britain’s first European Studies department at Sussex University, which inspired the European pilot in 1976, he explained this week: “the idea that the internationalisation of study had to be open to all disciplines, not just languages. So we brought in the scientists, social sciences and arts”.
Dr. Ceri Jones, who went on to become Director General for employment and social policy at the European Commission, told the Observer: “Erasmus will still flourish in Europe, but UK universities have been a powerful magnet, because of the English language. I feel bereaved by Brexit, and if it leads to the end of freedom of movement and exclusion of the UK from Erasmus, this would be devastating – a tragedy of staggering proportions for universities throughout the country, for the structured internationalisation of our academic institutions, which is what Erasmus is all about”."

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

CPAC Conference, Brexit and Trump

Closing discussion with Lance Bennett and Hendrik Bang

For the past two days I've been at a conference at the University of York, marking the launch of their Sociology department's new research centre, the Centre for Political Youth Culture and Communication (CPAC). It was a fantastic conference, with a wide range of studies and approaches from various disciplines. The keynotes were given by stars of political communication--Lance Bennett, Donatella della Porta, and Hendrik Bang. I met some lovely people, including two PhD students from my own department whom I hadn't met before, and had a "small world" encounter with Sabine Lang, whose introductory European Studies course I took at UW about nine years ago now. That class made a big impression on me--confirming that I wanted to do European Studies, sending me to Bath on the Euromasters exchange, and, of course, living in Europe for the past 8 years.

There was a lot of talk about Brexit at the conference. It's very timely to be discussing youth and political participation, as 75% of 18-25 year olds voted to remain in the EU, while the over 65's voted overwhelmingly to leave (I saw the figure 90% in Hendrik Bang's talk). This division is so sad for the UK, for Europe, and really for the world in general. We still don't know exactly what's going to happen, or when--to be fair, it's only been 3 weeks tomorrow, it just feels like longer! It was clear that all of the experts there--from political science, sociology, political communication, etc.--were all very concerned about the future.

There was also a lot of talk about Trump, speaking of concern--this week's Republican National Convention is a train wreck. So awful, but we can't look away. You can clearly see how divided the party is, and how those in charge are trying their best to just soldier on, regardless of how they feel about Trump. His 60 Minutes interview with Mike Pence demonstrated that Trump really is the narcissistic, bigoted playground bully we thought he was. He barely let the man get a word in--Penn and Teller have a more equitable relationship. Melania Trump's (speech writers') plagiarism of Michelle Obama's 2008 DNC speech is a symptom of a larger problem--they clearly just don't know what they're doing. They need handlers, political strategists--where's their Karl Rove? But the truth is, they're not getting that kind of support for two reasons:
1) Bullies don't ask for, nor accept, help.
2) the RNC doesn't want him to win. They know he's dangerous for the party, the country, the world, and they're not going to help him.

Both Brexit and Trump have vitally important public diplomacy implications. The world watched the referendum and they're watching the US, too. Britain's reputation will suffer over this. As John Oliver said, after showing a clip of a racist UKIP-affiliated woman, not everything sounds smarter in a British accent. The pound is weaker, there's been a rise in hate crime and some universities have already seen a decrease in internationally collaborative projects due to fears of Brexit's impact on funding. European students are already pulling out of UK universities. These instant, detrimental impacts on UK academia show why everyone at the conference was so worried--even the Australians, Brazilians and Americans I spoke with, who are already non-EU, are worried, because we know it's a global issue.

America's global reputation is already suffering with Trump as a candidate--and the public diplomacy fallout of a Trump presidency would be far worse. It's also suffering because of America's gun culture. As a British woman said to me yesterday, why can't they do anything to sort it? "They" includes President Obama, the 535 members of Congress, the American people through grassroots organisations--anybody. Why can't anybody do anything--"anything" being universal background checks, preventing felons and domestic abusers and 'no fly list' people from getting guns, banning assault weapons--anything. When the news about The United States is always another shooting victim(s)--be it a black man, a police officer, a gay man or a first grader--and nobody does anything to keep it from happening again, that doesn't look good to the rest of the world. If you want to "Make America Great Again", passing some common sense gun control legislation would be a great place to start.

I'd like to close with something more positive, but to be fair, the conference closed with a talk from Hendrik Bang on political participation"After Brexit", and it wasn't all that optimistic. I suppose there is hope, though, in the fact that the youth DO want international cooperation, and DO believe in the EU's motto, Unity in Diversity. This generation, and the future leaders who are currently growing developing in it, will support a very different agenda to that of their grandparents.