The Irish Government is supporting a Fianna Fáil proposed amendment to the Brexit Omnibus Bill that will guarantee that UK students studying in Ireland continue to pay EU fees in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The amendment was proposed by Thomas Byrne TD, Finna Fáil’s education spokesperson.
The government previously committed to a freeze of university fees for UK students starting university in September 2019, however this amendment will make that freeze an indefinite one.
Speaking in a debate in the Dáil, Byrne said the aim of his proposal was to ensure that Northern Irish students continue to come to the Republic to study. He noted that “Maintaining the flow and mobility of students between north and south is essential”.
Byrne also said he hoped that the guarantee would be returned by the UK government. UK authorities have so far committed to maintaining tuition costs at the same level for Irish students entering third-level education in 2019. However, this commitment has not been extended beyond the next academic year.
Last year saw a 20% drop in Northern Irish applicants to Trinity, with uncertainty over Brexit and the cost of accommodation in Dublin blamed for the fall. The Central Applications Office received 759 applications to Trinity by students from Northern Ireland in 2018, down from 964 in 2017.
The government’s commitment comes a week after the Provost travelled to Belfast to address alumni in the city and call for the current fees structure to be “copper-fastened long into the future”. The Provost said Trinity “had always seen itself as a university for the island of Ireland.”
Northern Irish Student and Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Education Officer elect Niamh McCay welcomed the decision saying that “it is incredibly important that our Northern Irish and UK students don’t feel ostracised and, instead, feeling [sic] continually supported by colleges in Ireland”.
She also pointed out that “if fees were to increase to non-EU levels the numbers of students entering from Northern Ireland and the UK would plummet.” According to McCay “we gain so much from increasing, not decreasing, levels of diversity on campus, so we need to continue to support them through the changes that will come as Brexit is implemented”.