Migrants win concession on third level education fees

Students with Irish or EU passport will not longer have to pay up to €12,000 yearly

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has announced that Leaving Cert students legally living in Ireland but without an Irish or EU passport will only pay the standard third level registration fee of ¤2,500 this year, rather than the ¤10,000 to ¤12,000 paid by international students.Photograph: Frank Miller.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn has announced that Leaving Cert students legally living in Ireland but without an Irish or EU passport will only pay the standard third level registration fee of ¤2,500 this year, rather than the ¤10,000 to ¤12,000 paid by international students.Photograph: Frank Miller.

Thu, Jul 25, 2013, 21:22

Migrant families living in Ireland have won an important educational concession, winning the right to be treated the same as any Irish student entering third level education.

The decision by the Department of Education and Skills to regularise fees has been strongly welcomed by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and the Union of Student’s in Ireland.

The Centre has waged a two-year campaign to gain this concession, which is one of many changes needed to achieve full parity of access to education. It means that Leaving Cert students legally living in Ireland who have an Irish or EU passport will only pay the standard registration fee, €2,500 this year, rather than the €10,000 to €12,000 paid by international students. The change will also allow these students to apply for grants associated with higher education.

The change was agreed by Cabinet on Tuesday and announced today by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn. It meant that the department was adopting an “equitable approach” for legally resident non-EU students who gain Irish or other EU citizenship just before or during their third level studies, he said.

The change will “ensure that new citizens will be treated exactly the same as those born in Ireland”.

Migrant families from non-EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway already have the same rights as the children of Irish parents to free primary and second-level education. This is not the case for higher education courses where some level of tuition is paid at a level agreed with the individual institution. It is up to the institutions involved to charge international student fees or some lower level closer to that paid by Irish students entering third level.

Mr Quinn has now asked the Higher Education Authority to enter into discussions with all institutions in the sector to adopt a single practice and fee structure for migrant family students who do not hold EU citizenship. This should clarify the costs involved for this group when accessing higher education, he said. Students may also have to satisfy other conditions such as living in Ireland for three of the past five years, the department added.

“We are welcoming this as a step in the right direction,” said Helen Lowry, coordinator of the Centre’s Migrant Educational Access Campaign. “We have been calling for this for a long time.”

The educational system had ignored the situation for migrant families. Those entering third level were often treated as international students, but even if allowed access they might have to pay standard undergraduate fees which for a science degree could be €7,000 to €8,000 a year, she said.

Difficulties also sometimes arose for migrant children who had acquired citizenship during the course of their studies, with fees still applying, she said, something that was in contravention of their rights as citizens.

Up to 700 students a year were affected by restrictions on education access, she said, but the numbers directly affected by this change “would amount to hundreds, not thousands”. The Department estimated it would benefit about 600 students over the coming four years.

Information on the Free Fees Scheme and the Student Grant Scheme, including eligibility criteria, can be found at: www.studentfinance.ie