A BA in Brexit Blues?

Jack Eustace discusses the impact Brexit will have on students studying in Ireland

Illustration: Sarah Larragy

The prime minister of the United Kingdom triggered Article 50 on March 29, beginning a two-year transition process wherein Britain will depart from the EU. The exact date of separation is planned to be the of March 29, 2019 – exactly two years from now. As a consequence, there will be a number of profound international socio-economic effects on the world at large. For Ireland, the Brexit process will have a major impact on students, particularly those from the North and the UK at large.

No more EU exchanges

“The fact that immigrants were a key issue for the Leave campaign does not indicate that the UK will definitely adopt a policy of free movement”

Firstly, the UK will potentially lose its status as a destination for students who wish to partake in Erasmus. While there are a number of European countries that take part in Erasmus despite not being EU member states – such as Norway and Liechtenstein –  it has to be noted that they have accepted free movement of people in and out of the EU; this is a consequence of their being part of the Schengen Zone. While the option remains open for Britain to adopt a similar policy post-Brexit, the fact that immigration was a key issue for the Leave campaign indicates that the likelihood of the UK adopting of a policy of free movement is far from certain. The UK’s continued position in the programme will be determined during the negotiations that will take place in the next two years. Should the UK opt to leave the single market and reject the free movement of EU citizens, students will be unable to journey to the UK as part of an exchange-programme.  

There remains the possibility of Britain initiating its own self-funded exchange programme, resembling Switzerland’s Swiss European Mobility Programme. This would depend on agreements with individual European universities. In the event of such a programme, travelling students would not receive funding from the EU in the form of an allowance; the British government would need to fund students in such a programme. According to The Telegraph, British universities reportedly earn 15% of their funding from the EU. Such a loss, combined with a need to self-fund a mobility programme, would likely be too much of a strain on the British government. For Irish students with only one language, the loss of a nearby anglophone country as an Erasmus destination is a heavy blow.

The UK as an employer

“one in 12 Irish graduates emigrate to the UK to work”

Brexit signifies other problems for students. According to the USI, one in 12 Irish graduates emigrate to the UK to work. For any students with prospects of emigrating, the negotiation of the aforementioned policies will leave current employment contracts up in the air. For students with plans to emigrate to the UK, generally for work that cannot be found in Ireland, the two-year negotiation period will cause plans to be put on hold as laws around free movement are decided by Westminster. Current third and fourth year students may emigrate to the UK to work and – unless they acquire British citizenship in time – may find their established vocations completely upended once Article 50 takes effect.

Students’ financial stability

Current first and second year students from the UK who study in the Republic are now facing a future within which that fee increase is a dangerous possibility”

No longer eligible for the EU Free Fees scheme, many British students looking to study in the Republic of Ireland may need to alter their plans so as to cope with a large fee-increase taking place part-way through their course. For the majority of courses in Trinity – with variations in certain science and medical courses – most students pay about €5,809 per year. For non-EU students in the same courses, fees generally amount to €17,698 per year. Current first and second year students from the UK who study in the Republic are now facing a future within which that fee increase is a dangerous possibility. Many would have chosen to study in Ireland safe in the knowledge that what they planned to pay was what they were going to pay. Now with Article 50 triggered, suddenly they may face 2 to 3 years of unplanned extra payment. Despite there being a two-year period before such things take effect, the advance notice does not negate how serious the issue is for some. Matt McGowan, 20, is a Senior Freshman Drama and Theatre Studies student. As a student studying in Trinity, Brexit represents a period of unwanted uncertainty and identity disfigurement: “If college did cost me more, it would be very detrimental to my financial stability. I love Trinity. I love being down in Dublin; in the South, and I really don’t want to lose that. Especially since the Northern state actually voted against leaving the EU, but is just being torn out of it anyway.”

It is important to note that in the North – providing the Irish reunification does not go ahead – many are facing issues of national identity. It is particularly problematic for those of a republican disposition who identify as Irish. Problems of recognition are a concern for students from the North of Ireland, such as being a non-EU student coming to an EU country, and being able to simply cross the border to go home.

According to Matt, one thing that needs to happen is for both the Irish government and the university administration to give greater recognition to Northern students who consider themselves to be Irish and are studying in the Republic. While easier said than done, there remains a situation – for example – where Northern students who claim Irish nationality are listed in Trinity’s system as British citizens, despite not considering themselves British. “It feels like I’m not being recognised for who I actually am. In short, I don’t want to be forking out more money for being considered to be a nationality that I’m not.”