For all international students confused by the up and coming vote for Scottish independence, Byron Taylor writes about the debate from a student's perspective
Suddenly, as Thursday 18th September looms, the reality of an Independent Scotland begins to sweep the national media. What will this really mean? The future of the country (if it does become it's own entity) is both thrillingly and frighteningly unforeseen. The television debates have rotated on matters of oil reserves, nuclear bombs, welfare cuts and regional power. While some see it as a panic-stricken mistake, others claim that if Westminster feels disconnected from voters (especially students and graduates) in the South and in London, how on Earth must it feel for students in the high-up peaks of Aberdeen? At the time of writing the future is still uncertain – but perhaps the only solution, especially from an educative perspective, would be a Scotland entirely committed to the EU.
Considering Scotland's reasonably small population (5.295 million), and its comparable success in terms of Universities – Edinburgh University being 46th globally, and one of the UK's top 5 places for research – the subject of the country's education is a matter of anxiety but also fresh opportunity.
If one takes a glance at England's political landscape over the last few years, one of the consistent strains has been an ever-rising attitude of 'Euroscepticism': UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), a party that was laughable in 2011, has gained exponential support from those who see the European Union as a meddlesome force that restricts our trade, and dictates our policies a little bit too keenly.
What is most depressing, is not just how popular they have become, but the fact that mainstream political leaders have somehow found themselves aping UKIP statements, copying their rhetoric, visibly nervous of not involving themselves to such popular sentiments (however risky their consequences). In the midst of all this, and with the national election due in May, it all seems a pretty chaotic mess. So what's the answer, where Scotland and it's Universities are concerned?
Something that Alex Salmond (leader of the Scottish National Party) hasn't mentioned is a plan that might just be his country's only hope: to not just join the EU, but to make every possible concession that the UK hasn't made. That means opening up the doors of it's institutions to Erasmus and all the other EU-schemed scholarships and programs. It means research partnerships and exchange programs with Universities in Germany, France, Scandinavian countries and Eastern Europe, the possibility of a far more varied environment, the opportunity to build the foundations for talented graduates and post-graduates to spread their wings across the continent in a country far more familiar (and less expensive) than somewhere like Central London. And that's not even getting started on how much simpler and more appealing it will be for foreign students, once Scotland decides to use the Euro...
For every grumbling complaint from Westminster, every refusal to use the currency, to bail out other countries in the Eurozone, to let Brussels announce it's decisions over the UK's treasured legal-system, Scotland would do well to make every concession that the UK has dismissed. Some could argue, that this would just be trading one hegemony for another. What people like Nigel Farage and the Tory sceptics overlook, however, is that the EU is a means for co-operation on a huge scale: and co-operation requires compromise.
Scotland's Universities already have more in common with many places in Europe in that tuition fees are free for Scottish and EU students, while remaining a sigh-inducing £7,500 for graduates around the rest of the UK. Perhaps education was the area where this current referendum had it's first modern expression, and left its first warning. The pressure mounts, and, while critics worry that many of Salmond' s ideas remain vague, the passion with which his country are facing this problem is a momentous and historical moment, whatever the verdict. And to think: there's an EU referendum a few years after...