The number of Irish undergraduate applicants to UK universities has continued to drop for the fifth year in a row, according to new data from the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS).
In total, 31% fewer people from Ireland applied to UK universities this year than in 2012. According to Times Higher Education (THE), Irish applicants once accounted for “more than a seventh” of EU applications to British universities, but now represent just 9% of applicants.
The director of academic affairs at the Irish Universities Association (IUA), Lewis Purser, credited the decline in Irish applicants to an increase in undergraduate fees at English universities. The British Houses of Parliament passed the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 last April. The legislation allows English universities to annually increase fees until 2020 dependent upon inflation.
Purser further stated: “I think the popular discourse and political context around Brexit are also acting as turn-offs for potential Irish students.”
The fall in applicants from Ireland to UK universities comes as many academics express their concerns over the impact of Brexit on higher education. The Royal Irish Academy (RIA) published a survey in June 2017 which found that two-thirds of Irish academics believe that Brexit will have a negative impact on higher education. The survey further highlighted the “importance of an open border” in order to retain “access to the major EU framework and innovation programmes”. 79% of participants said that they “agree” or “strongly agree” that “collaborations between U.K and Irish higher education institutions are very important in their academic/research field”.
Therefore, those surveyed agreed that “Brexit negotiations should ideally promote conditions that enable UK-Ireland collaborations, facilitate the continued mobility of staff and students, and secure future UK participation in EU research and innovation programmes”. 45% of participants stated that UK-Ireland collaborations are very important in their field.
A report published by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in November 2016 stated that the UK was Ireland’s biggest research partner and offered specific recommendations for maintaining this relationship post-Brexit. The HEA recommended maintaining the “soft” border with Northern Ireland, as well as research collaboration with British universities.