Stay or go: why should students stay in Ireland after graduation?

Between health, housing, and education — should students be leaving Ireland with their degrees?

These days, it can be difficult to decide how students should view Ireland as a part oftheir future. Recent surges of activism, progressivism, and a swell in youth votes have brought about a feeling of hopefulness for people, and a direction for a young, democratic country. However, the harsh realities and troubles of today’s Ireland can be daunting when looking forward to a life beyond the safety net of university.

Ireland’s overall emigration rate has fallen drastically since the darkest years of the recession, but according to an Irish Times report, we’re still losing more Irish nationals to emigration than we are getting back. Graduates are making up an increasingly substantial portion of these emigrants, with 44% of 2017’s 24,900 Irish nationals emigrating holding a third-level degree, a 15% rise from the previous year. More specifically, the Irish Medical Times reports that over 300 Irish graduate doctors are lost every year to Australia alone.

Ireland’s population is slowly growing thanks to a continuous inflow of immigrants, many of whom are university-educated, but the number of Irish national graduates in the workforce is falling despite a constantly-growing pool of graduate jobs and a gradually improving economy. The 2018 Graduate Ireland Fair, which is a showcase for graduate programmes and opportunities held in the RDS, saw more jobs on offer and more employer attendance overall than in recent years. So with a growing economy and abundant job offers, why are Irish graduates gravitating toward the airport?

At the forefront of the troubles here, as it is with most discussions of life in Ireland, is the ongoing housing crisis. While the passion and enthusiasm on display in protests and campaigns like Dublin’s #TakeBacktheCity can signal some hope for a solution, the issue not only persists, it worsens every day. Of course, other Irish cities are not quite as dramatically affected as Dublin, but the housing crisis persists throughout the nation and Dublin has become the choke point of the country’s grievances with extortionate rent rates, lack of accommodation, and no short supply of outrage.

“More affordable rural areas are rarely an option for the emergent graduate workforce, so they’re left with the options of an unaffordable life in the city, or a daunting move abroad.”

A significant portion of students graduating from universities in Dublin next year will be unable to pay for a place to live in the city. With job opportunities for graduates increasingly and almost exclusively linked to Ireland’s major cities, more affordable rural areas are rarely an option for the emerging graduate workforce, so they’re left with the options of an unaffordable life in the city or a daunting move abroad. The housing crisis presents a massive barrier of entry to working life in Ireland and turns away many of the nation’s most promising recent graduates, all but forcing them to another country.

Of course, Ireland in recent years has been far from a constant barrage of negative stories. In fact, the nation has experienced its fair share of positive changes, signals the country Is shaking off some of its past traumas to move forward as a progressive nation. Successful campaigns for policies like gay marriage, repealing the Eighth Amendment, and most recently the repeal of our blasphemy laws have given many in Ireland, students particularly, a level of pride and participation in their nation that they’d never felt before.

For those considering or undertaking a move abroad – uprooting their lives to take up residency in another nation – these positive and constant changes can feel like a reason to stay, or a beckoning call to return home. Irish students and graduates are becoming increasingly concerned and involved in the running of the country and the improvement of its policies to reflect their values, and moving away from Ireland can feel like a severance of those ties of passion and involvement.

“All candidates involved stressed the importance of the Irish diaspora abroad, and their participation in the country.”

Young Irish voters have been impassioned and mobilised both domestically and abroad by recent social movements in their home country, leading to a surge of returning expats with the #hometovote movement. Ireland’s policies are out of line with much of the rest of the world for restricting the democratic rights of its citizens abroad and offering no system for them to vote, which seems wildly at odds with Ireland’s long history of emigration and overseas communities.

With an upcoming referendum in 2019 to allow Irish emigrants to vote, this too could change, and Irish graduates can remain actively and decidedly Irish even while starting the working lives they want in the country of their choosing. In this year’s Presidential election, all candidates involved stressed the importance of the Irish diaspora abroad, and their participation in the country.

Ireland’s history with emigration has been long and tragic for many, but also a story of success and joy for some. Less than two hundred years ago, our population was halved not just by deaths, but by emigration, and since then we’ve maintained a steady outward flow of our best and brightest citizens, creating many personal tragedies but establishing a far- reaching worldwide network of Irish diaspora.

In her 1990 inaugural speech as Ireland’s first female President, Mary Robinson regarded Ireland’s diaspora as the “fifth province” of Ireland, “a swinging door which allows us to venture out and others to venture in”. Ireland has long been a nation that has accepted those who felt the need to venture abroad and welcomed back those who found their way home.

For students looking to start a life overseas after their graduation, even just temporarily, Ireland will always be a welcoming home, and they should never feel the need to compromise their living for a misplaced sense of loyalty. As a student abroad who’s still due to return for another year at Trinity, Ireland is still my home and always will be, but it’s difficult to explore the rest of the world and not to see the opportunities that lie overseas for an Irish graduate.

Eoin O'Donnell

Eoin O'Donnell is the current Leader Writer of Trinity News. He is a Senior Sophister History student, and a former Deputy Comment Editor and Deputy Investigations Editor.