With the recent attacks in Brussels, Roisin Guyett-Nicholson looks at safety for students doing an Erasmus year in Europe


The option to do an Erasmus year is very often a big part of the student experience. Around a fifth of students in UCD will study abroad for a year of the degree, with international degrees often seen as more employable. The opportunity to go abroad, study in another country and learn what that country is a universal student desire. Yet with the Brussels attacks this year, following the Paris attacks last year, Europe is seeming like a less safe option for students.

For students going abroad, Europe is always a popular option, not just for study. Many students go inter-railing through the continent, visiting numerous cities. For both options, countries like France and Belgium are extremely popular.

Yet with the recent advance of hostilities, it’s less likely that students will feel safe going away for Erasmus. France, Belgium and numerous other countries have been high alert since November last year. In Paris, most tourist attractions had armed guards outside, with a number of armed police and soldiers patrolling the streets. An attack is suspected to have been thwarted in Belgium last year. But although security has been increased, attacks can still happen.

Many argue that to change our attitudes and actions simply because of terrorists is to give them another win. Yet when such violent and seemingly random attacks happen, a shift in attitudes is inevitable. After Paris and Brussels, the Erasmus contacted each UCD student studying there with information and guidelines. That’s twice that the office has had to do it this academic year.

Combined with rising student costs at home, it is highly likely that students who would otherwise have gone away will simply opt to stay at home. Students on Erasmus pay fees to their main institution, not to the one they will study at will abroad, even if the fees are lower. This means that Irish people studying in Germany through the Erasmus programme will still pay the €3,000 even though fees are a few hundred euro there.

It would be naive to suggest that these attacks can have no effect. In Dublin, armed guards are now to police the port and the airport. Even though Ireland is a neutral country and internationally its forces are generally only deployed for peacekeeping forces, there is still a fear of attack.

The city of Brussels has also been put on lock down, making it incredibly difficult for people to get in or out. There are stories emerging of people having to pay up to €100 to transfer their flights, with a group of students from UCC stranded in Belgium. Over 30 students from Cork were stranded in Brussels following a class trip and appealed to Aer Lingus to help them get home.

Attacks such as these put unprecedented strain on the EU as a whole, not just from the perspective of the Erasmus programme. Though if we take this as an example, it’s clear to see the further potential problems for the organisation.

Set up to bring Europe closer together economically and to prevent significant conflict between its states, in recent years the body has been coming under particular pressure from the rise of far-right parties. In France, Denmark, Sweden and the UK, there has been a huge surge to supporting the right. This has been seen recently with the increased presence of refugees within Europe, leading to support to close borders and focus on national issues.
Similarly, in the last 20 years there has been a push to tie Europe together through more than the economy. Freedom of travel, a single currency and European higher education funding are all a part of this attempt to foster greater connections. Yet, it has not been as successful as hoped with a large number of countries developing anti-Europe factions.

The recent attacks are almost certain to see a drop in cross Europe travel. A number of people may have had plans to travel to Paris after November but cancelled. After the attacks in Brussels, the country shut down, preventing people from entering or leaving easily. The Erasmus programme, initially designed to bring Europe closer together, will still have a number of applicants. However, it is impossible to say how many, or to measure how secure students will feel while abroad. But this does not mean that they should ignore the opportunity.