Could UK fees lead to a place race at Trinity?

The rise in UK higher education fees are expected to have a drastic effect on the number of British and Irish students applying to study in Trinity College Dublin in the coming year.

There was a 20% drop in Irish applications to English universities, which, it is expected, will lead to a proportionate rise in applications to Irish universities. The student charge was set at €2250 in the 2012 Budget, compared to the average yearly fee for an Irish student in England of €10,200 (£8,500). This could rise as high as €10,825 (£9,000) which, in combination with a weak euro, has provided a deterrent to students who wish to study in the UK.

As a result the Leaving Certificate points race of 2012 will see high competition for Trinity College courses. Although the Central Applications Office (CAO) will not release its data for 2012 until March, an expected rise in Irish applications for Trinity College is widely rumoured, while a rise in British applicants hoping to avoid the fees is a strong possibility. Currently, first-time undergraduate applicants to Irish universities with UK citizenship are entitled to fee remission, by which they avoid paying EU or non-EU fees. This is true of all EU nationals.

David Byrne, Admissions Liaison Officer of the Trinity College Admissions Office, played down rumours of points race. “It is a bit too early to speculate on a big increase,” he said. Byrne maintains that until the CAO reveals its fresh data the rumours would amount to “educated speculation”.

Trinity College has seen a definite growth in the number of applicants over the last three years. In 2009 applications reached 17,288 and in 2010 they rose to 18,275 before arriving in 2011 with 18,437 students applying from Ireland and the rest of the European Union.

This means that since 2009, 1,149 more students per year are applying to Trinity College. These numbers, however, do not correlate to students registered; in 2009 and 2011, the numbers of students admitted were 2763 and 2789 respectively. Byrne allowed 2800 new students a year as an approximate ceiling figure. Therefore, increases would mean little in terms of the number of students admitted – instead an increase in applications would force competition to new levels and push up course entry points. If speculation proves correct, 2012 could be a year of struggle for applicants to Trinity College, and competition could extend beyond Leaving Certificate students.

Increased fees could mean that students from the UK, too, may begin to look across the sea for a cheaper degree. Increased English, Welsh and Scottish applications to Trinity College are a feature of the current period, with 737 applicants in 2009 rising to 837 in 2011. When we include applicants from Northern Ireland, this figure becomes 1,447 and the total number registered in Trinity College in 2011 reaches 245, a small increase from 2009.

If a surge does occur the College intends to ensure the fair selection of applicants. The prospectus explains it attempts to allocate places as fairly as possible by splitting them between “proportions of eligible applications coming from the Leaving Certificate and A-Level examination systems.” This also applies to other EU examination systems. This means, for example, that if 80% of the eligible applicants did the Leaving Certificate while 20% took A-Levels, then 80% of the places offered would go to Leaving Cert applicants, with the other 20% filled by the A-Level system. For Leaving Cert students to lose places to A-Level students the proportion of applicants from the UK would have to rise above the proportion of Leaving Cert applicants, which would be unlikely even with a substantial increase in UK applications.

“While it is possible that there may be an increase in A-Level applicants, we simply won’t know the facts until March,” Byrne points out. He says choosing to study in Trinity College would not come down to fees, but also to living expenses, along with the influence of family, friends and career advisors.

The Admissions Office is reluctant to give any definite projection on applications for the coming year. Even then, the approximate number of students to be admitted is expected to remain within the limits of 2,800, so an applications climb would put less pressure on Trinity College than on the students currently studying for their Leaving Certificate examinations.

While speculation may run rampant as to whether Trinity College may face huge increases in applicants from the UK in the wake of new college fees, a clearer picture may be sketched in March when the CAO will reveal the statistics regarding the coming year’s applications.

Photo by Sam Heavey