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There are few things I tend to do when I am on Erasmus in a long running partner. I get a morning fredo coffee from their refectory, then into the classroom, followed by a brief chat with their administration staff and colleagues. The programme is usually divided between teaching sessions and academic discussions.
My last session was on learning disabilities and empowerment. The content forms part of a module on people with special needs. The curriculum in the host institution combines social sciences differently and therefore my hard criminological shell is softened during my visit. It is also interesting to see how sciences and disciplines are combined together and work in a different institution.
In the first two hours we were talking about advocacy and the need for awareness. The questions posed by the students raised issues of safeguarding, independence and the protection of the people with learning disabilities. I posed a few dilemmas and the answers demonstrated the difficulties and frustrations we feel beyond academia, shared among practitioners. This is “part of the issues professionals face on a daily basis”. Then there were some interesting conversations “how can you separate a mother from her baby even if there are concerns regarding her suitability as a mum”? “How do we safeguard the rights of people who cannot live an independent life”? Then we discussed wider educational concerns “we are preparing for our placement but we are not sure what to expect”. “Interesting”, I thought that is exactly what my second year students feel right about now.
As I was about to close the session I told them the thought that has been brewing at the back of my head since the start of my visit….”I may not be able to see you next year…today the UK will be starting the process of Brexit.” One of the students gasped the rest looked perplexed.
It is the kind of look I am beginning to become accustomed to every time I talk about Brexit to people on the continent.
After the class the discussion with colleagues and administrative staff was on Brexit. It seemed that each person had their own version of what will happen next. Ironically they assumed that I knew more about it. Thinking about it, the process is now activated but very little is known. This is because Brexit is actually not a process but a negotiation. A long or a very long negotiation. The EU devised a mechanism of exit but not a process that this mechanism needs to follow. Despite the reasons why we are leaving the EU the order and the issues that this will leave open are numerous. In HE, we are all still considering what will happen once the dust settles. From research grants for the underfunded humanities and social sciences to mobility programmes for academics and students. My visit was part of staff mobility that allows colleagues to teach and exchange knowledge away from their institution. The idea was to allow the dissemination of different ideas, cooperation and cultural appreciation of different educational systems. The programme was originally set up in the late 80s when the vision for European integration was alive and kicking. The question which emerges now, post-Brexit, is what is the wider vision for HE?