Brexit a 'catastrophe for our generation', says NUS boss

University students in cap and gown

The decision to leave the EU is "a catastrophe for our generation", the president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Wales said.

Beth Button said vital funding for young people and communities in poverty will now be lost.

Universities Wales - the body representing institutions - said it will create "significant challenges".

854,572 (52.5%) voters in Wales chose to leave the EU, compared with 772,347 (47.5%) supporting Remain.

Ms Button said the decision will not only be "hugely negative" for students and young people but Wales will also lose out on large amounts of EU funding.

"Those funds support investment and infrastructure all across Wales, particularly for young people and communities in poverty.

"This is a catastrophe for our generation," she said.

Image copyright Swansea University
Image caption Swansea University campus development received £95m of European funding

Earlier this month, Universities Wales published an open letter in which it outlined what it sees as the benefits of EU membership.

The letter, signed by the chairman of the body, Cardiff University vice chancellor Colin Riordan, said the free movement of students and staff "enriches the student experience" but also made a contribution to the Welsh economy "worth hundreds of millions of pounds".

It talked about partnerships with other EU researchers driving economic growth and innovation in areas such as healthcare.

It also pointed to the economic impact of EU students themselves, claiming it was worth more than £70m a year off campus in Wales.

Following the Leave vote, the body said there will be a "gradual exit process", during which time it will have opportunities to seek assurances and influence future policy.

It said its first priority is to convince the UK government to allow students from EU countries to continue working and studying at British universities.

A statement said: " We will also prioritise securing opportunities for our researchers and students to access vital pan-European programmes and build new global networks."

It wants to ensure the UK continues to be promoted as "a welcoming destination for the brightest and best minds".

'Staggering impact'

The NUS said students' unions had been fully engaged in the referendum, urging students to register to vote, running registration sessions and debates.

But while turnout was higher than in the General Election, it said numbers would have been much greater among students if the UK Government had "truly engaged young people".

"We will continue to fight and campaign for 16 and 17-year-olds to be given the vote.

"We are confident that this will be in place for the next Assembly election, if not sooner," the NUS said.

While it expressed dismay that 17 out of 22 Welsh local authorities voted to leave, it called on the UK government to now include students in the exit negotiations.

"The UK Government has committed to ensuring that the Welsh (government) budget will not suffer following the loss of European funding, and this promise must be kept.

"But it is essential that students are at the heart of the negotiations. Any future deal will have a simply staggering impact upon us," a statement added.

NUS Wales women's officer Rosie Inman expressed concerns over EU-made laws.

She said: "The European Union has been essential for helping to strengthen, and introduce, vital equality legislation.

"The UK government cannot start to erode these rights."

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