Students feel like citizens of the world so the Brexit vote has left them feeling embarrassed and conflicted. They are proud to be British or to live in the UK and support British brands but they won’t do this at the expense of their futures. We could be facing a brain drain as a result of Brexit with our students looking for work opportunities abroad more than any generation before them.
“But what about us? The students, the millennials and the Gen Zs… the people who are going to have to be cleaning this up in 5, 10, 20 years?”
55% of students told us they felt ‘like a citizen of the world’ so the shock at the decision for the UK to leave the European Union in June 2016 was felt most strongly by young people just like them.
“It’s a bit like a bad break up honestly.”
Global citizens at heart, students spend a lot of their time in a digital world without borders. Now for the first time they are about to experience a world that is to become a lot less accessible for them.
“I can’t just pack my bags and leave one day, which shouldn’t be a big concern, but you know, it is. I want to travel.”
How has the threat of Brexit affected the national identity of students? And are they more loyal to their country or their individual futures?
“I feel like we’re really alienating ourselves from the world.”
Over most students’ lifetimes they have seen how Britain has slowly but surely got rid of its stuffy reputation. The outside world is starting to see the vibrant, creative, welcoming country that those of us who live here see every day. They are starting to appreciate British food, fashion, modern architecture, cinema, etc. which has been a point of pride for the country.
For students who have been progressively proud of this, the effect of Brexit has been really damaging. Although 6/10 students are proud to be British or living in Britain, at the same time they are concerned their pride can easily be misconstrued as nationalism. They are desperate not to be viewed in the same light as the UK’s right wing element. 52% agreed that being patriotic is becoming more difficult or confusing in the current climate.
If being patriotic is becoming a dirty word, we may be entering a time where most students feel the need to be more liberal to balance out the rise of the right wing. With heroes like Ruth Bader Ginsberg capturing the hearts of the young, it’s not difficult to see why. Half of all students in the UK are worried about the way they are perceived by the rest of the world.
*“Most people I know that don’t live in the country […] are very confused as to […] why we would want to leave the EU. And I’m not going to lie, so am I.” *
The amount of protests, online petitions and internet rage shows that students aren’t convinced that those in power have their best interests at heart when it comes to creating a post-Brexit landscape. There’s a good chance some of the best brains we’ve cultivated will find Britain too narrow-minded for them and look for places that have more diverse communities and experiences. Over half of students want to live and work abroad in the next 10 years but even more than that would move abroad if the conditions here didn’t suit them. 70% would look for work opportunities abroad if they didn’t find them here. That’s a huge talent drain for a small island!
Despite this, students are still trying to balance their futures with the future of the country. 54% want to support British brands and buy British, which shows that although they want to give themselves opportunities to succeed, they are still concerned with the nation’s growth and prosperity.
For brands this is tricky territory. How do you strike the right balance between encouraging students to celebrate their Britishness and be part of a global community? These are difficult times when it comes to identity and students are looking for brands that represent the best both sides have to offer.
“Brexit feels a little bit apocalyptic right now.”