Losing EU funding for education in Cornwall would be calamitous

The European Union has long been a favoured whipping boy – and, perhaps rarely, never more so than in recent months, with the rise of Ukip startling its rivals into a frenzy of anti-Brussels finger-pointing over the EU budget, immigration and human rights.

It would be easy to think Britain gives but never takes from the European pot, and that opting out of Europe altogether (should David Cameron’s referendum on the subject actually materialise) is the only sensible choice. But what is the reality of EU membership for those of us living outside the Westminster bubble? To misquote the famous Monty Python sketch about Romans: “What has the EU ever done for us?”

If, like me, you are a student in one of poorest parts of Europe – Cornwall – the answer is “quite a lot”. Students are currently benefiting from a colossal expansion of education that would not have been possible without EU funding. Departure from the European Community could have devastating consequences for the county, particularly its students.In May, Cornwall was ranked one of the 10 most-deprived areas of western Europe by the EU statistical office, worse than Poland, Lithuania and Hungary.

As a final-year undergraduate at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall campus, this hits close to home. Exeter shares its campus in Falmouth with Falmouth University – two of five higher-education institutes in the county involved in the heavily EU-funded Combined Universities in Cornwall (CUC) partnership. Plymouth University, Truro and Penwith College and Cornwall College are all part of the initiative, set out to give more people in Cornwall the chance of higher education.

Over the past 14 years, the CUC has secured more than £315m of investment to further higher education in Cornwall, and the EU has contributed £173.2m. If this kind of funding were lost, my thriving, rapidly growing campus would never again benefit from the huge contributions the EU has made to its expansion.

“The EU contributed hugely towards the development of universities in Cornwall. In turn, this has generated approximately £500m of income for the Cornish economy in the past 10 years,” says Roger Auster, president of student experience for Exeter and Falmouth’s shared student union, FXU. “Leaving the EU would have a vast knock-on effect on both the student experience and the people of Cornwall.”

And it isn’t just students in Cornwall who could be affected by Britain pulling out of Europe. Isolation for the UK would mean many students could no longer participate in exchanges to study in Europe.

I spent the third year of my English Literature degree studying abroad: a truly transformative experience that I would urge any of my peers to share. EU membership not only enables European students to move freely around the continent, but also affords them the opportunity to work across Europe without serious financial strains. The newly revived EU scheme Erasmus+ provides generous grants for more than four million Europeans to study, train and intern abroad.

“It is those kinds of opportunities we are in danger of losing if Britain leaves the EU,” said Charli Styles, of Combined Universities in Cornwall.

Put plainly, European Union funding for higher education in Cornwall is working – and it would be nothing short of calamitous to lose it. More people are getting degrees, and business across the county  prospers because of it.