This Sussex Life. Lucio Picci; "I was the first Erasmus student at Sussex."

Lucio Picci

Lucio Picci

Lucio Picci , professor of economics at Bologna University in Italy, remembers happy days at the University of Sussex when he was among the first to take up the Erasmus study-abroad scholarship in 1987.

I cannot overestimate how important the Erasmus scheme was for me. I come from a working class family, from a small town 40 miles away Bologna in Italy, and so I was relying on scholarships for my education and opportunities to travel abroad. The Erasmus innovation was that you could study abroad and get credits for your degree.

I came to Sussex in the autumn of 1987, and I believe that I was the first student to take exams under the scheme. In fact, it was already arranged that I would come to Sussex under a previous agreement between the universities of Bologna and Sussex. But it happened that the Erasmus scheme started the very first month of my time at Sussex, and as soon as the term finished in December, I rushed back to Bologna and I immediately got my credits recorded. Arguably, it would have been impossible to do it earlier. On this reasoning I rest my claim that I was the first Erasmus student in Europe.

The two courses I took at Sussex went on to shape my future. I was studying political science at the University of Bologna, majoring in economics, and at Sussex I took a course in international economics with Tony Venables , who already had quite a reputation in the field. And another with Pat Rice , a lecturer in econometrics.

Because I had credits in the courses, I went back to Bologna and could start my dissertation in econometrics. And because of that dissertation I was able to get a scholarship to do a PhD in econometrics at the University of California. My research now is really at the intersection between economics and political science, with a focus on corruption.

I have many great memories of my ten weeks at Sussex. I was lucky because those two courses worked perfectly for me, but I also made the most of being in Brighton. I was working hard but at the same time I had a good social life. We went to the Students’ Union bar, I went to concerts in Brighton, and to the swimming pool, but the real magnet for me was London.

I even managed to get myself on the front page of the Guardian. I’d taken part in a demonstration in London. It was against a government education bill that the students felt was gagging them, so we all wore gags for the photograph. I’m not sure if I felt I had a moral duty to join the demonstration. The Students’ Union, which was very well organised, put on a free bus to London, and I took every opportunity I could to go there. So that might have had something to do with it.

I was on campus during the Great Storm of October 1987. I lived in Park Village and I woke up one morning, having slept like a log, not hearing any noise, and I looked out of the window and it was like world war three. Huge trees had come down, campus was shattered. I haven’t been back to campus since then. The opportunity hasn’t arisen, not for conferences or the like. But I would love to return. From my bedroom window I could see a little observatory. If that’s still there [it is!], then I am ready to come back.

I noticed the economic difference between the north and south of England during that time. I’d also spent a term at the University of Hull earlier in 1987. When I went to the city of Hull I could see that it was a god-forsaken place and the people were struggling. The south of England was a different place. Those were tough years for the north of England. Margaret Thatcher was still in office, and the political environment could be rather... pugnacious. Also, Hull is a place where I saw a lot of drinking. There, I once went with my British roommates on a “pub crawl? - one pint in each pub, and there were nine of them. I soon started cheating and getting halves, but they drank me under the table anyway. The joke was on me, and they were nice kids. Also when I spent one year in America during my high school years I saw a lot of drinking. I guess that it’s partly true that there is a cultural difference at play, and we don’t go out just to get drunk. So, there was some learning there, too. But while at Falmer, we had the occasional pint, and that was it.

My experiences of studying abroad are among the most important events of my life. Travel has always been one of the things that I very much like and has helped me to maintain a detached view on many issues, not only in the professional sphere. I encourage my students to cut the umbilical cord and take advantage of the opportunities to study abroad whenever those opportunities arise. You never realise how much you will gain.

Britain’s exit from the European Union means that its membership of the Erasmus scheme has now ended. A replacement study-abroad programme for UK students, the Turing Scheme (named after computing pioneer Alan Turing), is due to start in September 2021.

This profile is part of our This Sussex Life series.

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Tuesday, 26 January 2021

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