Caught in a crisis: years abroad in jeopardy?

Max Bover on the unfortunate reality for thousands of students across the country who find their years abroad at risk due to the pandemic and the Brexit referendum.

Max Bover
9th March 2021
Image: Newcastle University
For thousands of student across the UK, the devastating combination of COVID-19 and inadequate guidance on post-Brexit UK-EU relations has cast serious doubt over studying abroad. 

Even beyond the Brexit deadline, current government guidance fails to deliver definitive answers. The most up-to-date guidance can only assure those students that had begun their studies abroad before 1 January 2021; beyond that, students face broad uncertainty spanning from their rights to work to financial support.

The current mishandling of Brexit has left students caught in the eye of a storm of bureaucracy, caused by a referendum in which the vast majority of students were not eligible to vote.

Another symptom of the Brexit-COVID-19 barrier is a backlog of students waiting to complete their year abroad. With the limited places at partner institutions and the right to work in the EU remaining a matter unsolved, current and future university students face the possibility of a cycle of study abroad postponements and cancellations.

Nobody really knows how [Brexit] is going to affect our year abroad. We didn't really expect a pandemic to be thrown in with the uncertainty either

Newcastle University Spanish and Business student

While this may be a disappointing yet unavoidable reality for many students, the year abroad is a mandatory element of a degree in languages. One French, Spanish and Business student at Newcastle University has had their year abroad derailed by the current combination of issues post-Brexit Britain is facing: “Nobody really knows how [Brexit] is going to affect our year abroad. We didn't really expect a pandemic to be thrown in with the uncertainty either”.

This student had originally planned to complete an internship during their year abroad so that they “could meet graduate employers, learn what it is like to work in a foreign country, and earn money” to support themselves over the course of their stay. 

However, with the economic slump that the world faces, this student felt forced to apply to universities to complete their mandatory year abroad instead; “because of the pandemic, companies are struggling as it is to employ their own staff, never mind hire an intern”.

This student is one of the many thousands of language students that face a complete derailment of the degree programme they originally signed up for. 

For now, Newcastle University “has not yet decided if placements abroad in Summer 2021 onwards can take place” and have since offered the opportunity of “a virtual placement or language course” as an alternative to physical placements abroad in Summer 2021. How long this alternative will be in place is yet to be seen.

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