At this historical moment in UK-EU political change, we are surrounded by media discussions about Brexit and the complexity of the decision-making, the uncertainty and the opposing positions. Much is at stake in these discussions for UK Higher Education, not least Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 developments, but when Theresa May triggered Article 50 in Parliament in March 2017 she also stated that ‘we are not leaving Europe’. This distinction between ‘Europe’ and the ‘European Union’ is often lost in the emotional rhetoric and rarely surfaces in debates and discussions. Being part of Europe is – inescapably – part of our British cultural identity and understanding the links between education and our European historical and geographical legacy is something we will need to explore more and more in the years ahead.
Without Athens and Rome our language, education and political world would be very different, without the scientific developments and social thought in cities like Paris and Brussels we would lack knowledge and insight. We would be very different as people without our links to the wider European continent, because we are culturally inter-related and born of a shared intellectual and cultural heritage that shapes the entire European geographical region. In this sense, knowledge is always about relations and exchange, not isolation. We are born and sustained through our relationships in our development of knowledge.
The county of Kent is uniquely linked to that wider European heritage in more powerful ways as a frontier county, with its sea border, transportation systems and commercial links. Kent exists at the gateway to Europe and its economy, innovation and education are enriched by this important regional position.
This autumn 2018 the University of Kent will have been located in continental Europe for 20 years, moving from a base of six students in a small room in Brussels to four key centres across Europe: the Brussels School of International Studies, the Paris School of Arts and Culture, the Rome School of Classical and Renaissance Studies and the Athens Heritage Management programme.
The University of Kent is the only UK Higher Education institute to have its international branch campuses in Europe, justifying our status as the UK’s European university. Building on this unique experience and developing our footprint in Europe is vital to our regional location and innovative study abroad programmes.
The data supporting the value of study abroad is also very clear: students with study abroad experience are more likely to get better degrees, less likely to be unemployed and more-likely to achieve graduate-status jobs. Evidence from employment and recruitment surveys confirm that employers seek graduates with knowledge of the wider world and some put this above degree classification. Employers also seek stronger language skills in a global workplace and recognise the necessity of our networked society.
Our European links need therefore to be at the heart of our employability strategy and educational vision. We are, therefore, seeking to extend the options for Schools and Departments to enrich their programmes with study abroad experience at the European centres; crucial to ensure both undergraduates and postgraduates leave with something distinctive from the Kent region and belonging to the UK’s European University.
It is now time to understand how the phrase ‘we are not leaving Europe’ enriches our educational experience of the future and not just the past.
Professor Jeremy Carrette, Dean for Europe