It’s May 2021, and after nearly 2 years as your Academic Affairs Officer at AberSU, I wanted to quickly revisit and reflect on a BIG topic before I say my goodbyes… and that big topic is student mobility.
For those of you unaware, Brexit took up a massive chunk of my working life last year, as AberSU joined organisations across the UK in fighting for the protection of ERASMUS+, a European Union (EU) founded and funded programme allowing freedom of educational movement for students across Europe. As per policy set by YOU, it was my job to do all I could to ensure that UK students would still have access to educational opportunities beyond our borders for years to come.
So, back in 2019 when a very fresh-faced me joined the AberSU team, I had to get pretty creative to tackle one hefty policy - lobby for the protection of ERASMUS+. I hit the books, made some calls, and eventually hatched a plan, and voila! The Purple Postbox Project was born, a campaign encouraging students, staff, and pretty much anyone else that cares to send a postcard to their MP demanding ERASMUS+ be a priority in any Brexit negotiations. After a few weeks of rallying students on the concourse, talking in lectures, and running around campus with a purple postbox (yes, I actually painted it purple), we managed to get over 200 of these powerful little postcards signed, sealed, and delivered, receiving a number of responses from MP’s, and even a shout out in parliament itself (cheers Ben Lake)! However, an issue as big as Brexit needed a bigger force than just us, so fast forward through some conferences, interviews, and Q&A’s (shoutout to former UCM Cymru president Rob Simkins), it was time to join forces with… everyone. Come October, myself and Dhan (former AberSU pres) marched the streets of London waving our EU flags alongside ONE MILLION others asking for a people’s vote. We met with sabbatical officers from Student’s unions (SU’s) across the nations, sharing our stories, and creating networks in hopes we could join forces and continue our fight together.
Come January, I got a text from a member of For Our Future’s Sake (FFS) that I had met at the march, offering me an unforgettable opportunity - a chance to represent Aber students internationally. Next thing you know, myself, NUS Wales president-to-be Becky Ricketts, and a handful of other students passionate about the after-effects of Brexit, are on a train to the EU Parliament. After three days in Brussels hosted by former Lib-Dem Member of European Parliament (MEP) Luisa Porritt, I had asked so many questions, many without answers, and with the help of your postcards (and of course, many, MANY other voices), felt we had made our stance clear. In just a few days we were to leave the EU, and students did not want to suffer the consequences.
By this point there was still a TINY bit of hope, until just a few weeks later us, the EU, and more importantly, the entire world, were hit by a much bigger issue (I’ll give you one guess as to what). Cut to 2021 and with a global pandemic overshadowing just about everything, you may have missed the massively historical moment when the UK, after years of back and forth, did finally leave the European Union… taking ERASMUS+ with them.
Despite the outcome though, I look back on our campaign as a huge success. No, we didn’t “save ERASMUS+”, but we most DEFINITELY made our mark. By the end of our campaign, 200 UK MP’s, 60 Students' Union’s, thousands of students, a million UK citizens, and even some MEP’s knew that UK students, Aberystwyth ones included, firmly believed that access to educational mobility is invaluable and could not be taken away. It was to be taken seriously, and the UK Government should make it a priority going forward.
And that they did.
In this new, post-Brexit era, UK students DO still have access to a wide variety of educational and working opportunities, globally. (check out my blog here for more information). From an extension to the previous ERASMUS+ programme we know and love, to the introduction of a new alternative scheme by the UK itself, there is definitely hope on the horizon and reason to celebrate the part we played in it.
To every single student, staff member, and supporter that had a part to play in our campaign, from signing a postcard to marching with us, I thank you. Not only did we show just how strong the student voice can be in tackling some of the biggest issues in history (quite literally), but we also got an award out of it (yes, I did have the get that in there somehow; cheers NUSW for the recognition).
There is still a way to go, and I’m sure there are many conversations to be had about the future of global opportunities for UK students, but for right now, I’m calling this a win.
So, I guess this is officially goodbye to the Purple Postbox Project, and hello to many new and exciting opportunities for Aber students. It was a blast.
And with that... I’m signing off!
Chloe (AA Officer)