Romanian Students in the UK – a Mistreated Asset –

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On the 4th of November, 2013, in an exemplary instance of collaboration and cooperation between the UK branch of the League of Romanian Students Abroad (LSRS – UK) and the Association of Romanian International Student Societies (ARISS), the Romanian students’ associative environment in the UK issued the following press release:

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This document represents a press release issued by Romanian students in the United Kingdom through the organizations which represent them, in response to recent press criticisms against the Romanian community. Its main purpose is to present a representative and true account of the Romanian presence in the UK, namely that of a mistreated asset.

High-flying libel has been set as standard in the past year within the British right-wing populist media, with the local Romanian community being the punching bag in the search of an ever increasingly ignorant readership. In a media Farage-isation, bombastic accounts revealed how  Romanian gangs of beggars and criminals, already terrorising Britain, can’t wait for January 1st, 2014, when work restrictions are lifted, and their ‘mates’ – the benefits seekers – can freely leave their homes, where “they live like animals”, to come and suffocate the British labour market. Pseudo-alarmist accounts call for drastic solutions, ranging from extending the restrictions placed on Romanians’ access to the UK labour market to the outright British withdrawal from the EU. Representatives of Romanian students’ organizations in the UK, the present signatories of this line of argument, however, are keen on emphasizing one clear point: ignorance hurts!

We are keen to use this channel in order to present a realist account of our segment of the local Romanian community – namely Romanian students in the UK. This segment embodies anything but the above-mentioned examples and, most significantly, is immensely more representative of the true features of the Romanian community in Britain than the accounts above. Consequently, as Romanians in the UK, we take direct offence in the intentional attempt at libeling our image and deplore both the superficiality of the xenophobic rhetoric which influences such arguments and the (lack of) deontological norms behind their publication in a number of right-wing populist media outlets in Britain.

The intellectual competences of Romanian students in the UK have been constantly recognised by both British academia and peers alike. Romanian students are continually evaluated to be among the best within British education, not least because the Romanian educational system in which they originated has a strong knowledge focus. Thus, there exists a significant degree of complementarity Between the Romanian knowledge-based education curricula and the British research skills-oriented focus and this, in itself, represents both a feature of British Higher Education which appeals to our nationals and a factor which increases their competitive advantage – as they develop to become products of both frameworks. This isn’t to say, however, that Romanian students do give back to the system that educates them. According to the UK Higher Education Statistics Agency, during the 2011/12 academic year, 5915 Romanian nationals were enrolled within UK Higher Education Institutions, of which 5175 were studying in England. At an average rate of £3200 per year, Romanian students in England have paid their universities a total of £16,560,000 in tuition fees alone. If one would add to this a very small estimate of £50 per week in accommodation costs (although, in general, in England rents are known to be higher), simply by living in England for 38 weeks of the year meant that another £9,832,500 can be added to the sum and, without accounting for any other expenses (such as shopping, utilities, etc.), £26,392,500 was the 2011/12 sum of money paid by our students enrolled at English universities to cover the costs associated with their education. In other words, throughout their (average of) 3 years of undergraduate studies, our 2011/12 generation would have paid a little under £80 million in Romanian capital transferred to England. Again, this very cautious estimate does not account for any other expenses such as shopping, bills, living in accommodation for longer than 38 weeks, pursuing postgraduate studies (and paying for tuition fees for longer than 3 years), or paying post-2013 tuition fees exceeding £3200. By comparison, 5000 Romanian students paying the increased tuition fees alone following 2011/12, would pay £45,000,000 per academic year to English academic institutions.

Giving back does not stop here. As the results of professional formation begin to show, Romanian students transform into young, multilingual and intelligent professionals, and, to the potential benefit of Britain, direct contributors to the British economic recovery and growth. Even the UK Migration Advisory Committee has noted in 2012 that educated foreign nationals, such as our own, increase the skills capital available to companies/organizations employing them, which leads to a visible increase in their competitiveness. This is where the representativeness of the Romanian student community in the UK becomes most obvious – as the main supply base for the future young and highly skilled Romanian workforce in Britain, which, according to Push and Pull Factors for Romanians and Bulgarians (2012) is the most active of all foreign communities in the United Kingdom and has an unemployment proportion of only 4.4%. This is, however, only if Britain is attractive enough to be able to benefit from their assets. In this sense, statements such as that of Foreign Secretary William Hague that “In view of the fact that the UK will lift working restrictions on Romanian and Bulgarian nationals on 1 January 2014 in accordance with our legal obligations, we acknowledged the positive contribution that most Romanians in the UK make to the UK economy” are welcomed by the Romanian student community in the UK as a sign of mainstream normality, and research contributions, such as the recent study carried out by the University College London, as a focus on real data.

As proud representatives of their country in the United Kingdom, Romanian students have created one the most cohesive institutional frameworks in Europe for the promotion of their culture and spirit within the academic environments in which they live and work. At a micro level, relationships between Romanian and non-Romanian nationals in the UK resulting from this framework are indicative not only of the spirit of collaboration and shared values between Romanians, Britons and other internationals, but also of the intrinsic and wide-ranging academic co-operation that our students are experiencing throughout their studies. The National Day of Romania, on December 1st, when the entire corpus of Romanian student associations in the UK celebrates not in isolation, but through events to which the majority of guests are British and other international students, professors and researchers, is only one example in which this phenomenon is manifested. Excellence, potential, and meritocratic success represent the characterizing features of the Romanian student community in the UK and they are manifested in a developed and open associative environment which nicely fits into the British multicultural horizons. Multiculturalism, as a celebrated political proposal, has been extensively and discursively promoted in recent years, fact which has massively influenced Romanian students’ choice to study in the UK. However, it is arguable that today’s public discourse is encountering a backlash from multiculturalism in the lights of the increased security measures which aim to redefine immigration policies, among a variety of other strategic decisions. All these place a shadow on Romanian students in the UK, as well, creating a dangerous, concerning and misunderstood label which does nothing else than stigmatizing both their potential and the UK’s benefits from their intellectual and material contribution to wider socio-economic developments.

Neither populism nor xenophobia represent new phenomena. Present instances of their manifestation throughout Europe reveal that they constitute nothing more than archaic instances of rhetoric typical to uneducated activists. Though, as their expression in British media reveals, this does not make them less dangerous or less offensive. Romanian students in the UK can accept the existence and narrative of UKIP as a disconcerting oddity in an otherwise exemplary political environment. However, the success of this political faction in getting its purposefully offensive message across through right-wing populist media institutions can only be codified as a deal aimed at increasing the audience of the said institutions – and this, in itself, represents nothing less than a cheap shot.

Romanian students in the UK are also keen to assure the British public that they do not promote the false image of a 100% saintly Romanian community in Britain. On the contrary, as a community we display the same zero-tolerance to crime and abuse towards our own nationals as towards all others. We are, however, of the strong opinion that the flaws displayed by our nationals are in no way different or more widespread than those of any other European population and, for that matter, of Britain as well. Nonetheless, we could never conceive to pass judgements regarding the United Kingdom exclusively by virtue of Britons’ flaws – a luxury that we were not afforded in the past year.

Signed on the 4th of November 2013 by:

Andrei Ioan Stan, League of Romanian Students Abroad UK Branch (LSRS-UK)

Ariel Alexander Chis, Association of Romanian International Student Societies (ARISS)

Andrei Dinca, University of Durham Romanian Society

Ioan Polenciuc, York Romanian Society

Madalina Luca, King’s College London Romanian Society

Alexandra Bogatu, UCLU Romanian and Moldovan Society

Octavian Tuchila, Imperial College Romanian Society

Cristiana Mirosanu, University of Sheffield Romanian Society

Catalin Munteanu-Ene, Warwick University Romanian Speaking Society

Ema Mihaela Tudose, University of Manchester Romanian Society

Alexandra Irina Pinzariu, Romanian Society at University of Nottingham

Alois Afilipoaie, University of Bradford Romanian Society

Radu Oprescu, University of Edinburgh Romanian Society

Ion Ambrinoc, University of Oxford Romanian Society

Florin Alexandru Sîntean, Glasgow Romanian Society

Adriana Solomon, Napier University Romanian Society

Nida Serban, Leeds Romanian Society

Dan Angelache, Southampton Romanian Society

Dorin Frasineanu, Leicester University Romanian

Vladimir Vancea, Loughborough Romanian Society

Ioana Nastasia Alexandru, Essex Romanian Society

Diana Somanescu, Exeter Romanian Society

Cora Georgiana, Portsmouth Romanian Society