Government hopes hard Brexit would not affect fees for cross-Border students

More than 3,000 higher education students flow across the Border

The Government is hopeful that students will be able to study north and south of the Border without incurring hikes in student fees in the event of a hard Brexit.

About 1,200 students from the North attend colleges in the Republic, while more than 2,000 students from the Republic attend colleges in Northern Ireland.

Both groups currently benefit from being treated as EU students with heavily subsidised undergraduate fees or charges of €3,000 in the Republic and £3,805 (€4,235) in the North.

The possibility of students being charged international or non-EU student fees after Brexit could lead to charges jumping dramatically to €20,000 and disrupting student flows.


However, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said on Thursday he was hopeful that the common travel area between the two jurisdictions would be maintained, even in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

He said the Government was examining whether any legislation would need to be amended on an emergency basis.

"I had a very positive conversation with [Minister for Foreign Affairs] Simon Coveney this morning," Mr McHugh said.

“He’s very much of the opinion like myself that the common travel area agreement that we have north and south, and east-west for that matter, will be protected.”


Mr McHugh added that the Department of Education was also examining whether legislation would need to be changed to ensure students could continue to avail of State grants in the event of a hard Brexit.

Government sources say moves to ensure students on the island of Ireland continue to be charged on the same basis should be relatively straightforward due to the Good Friday Agreement.

It is uncertain at this stage, say sources, whether Irish students studying in Britain, and vice versa, will continue to be charged on the same basis.

There has been a rise in the number of students from Northern Ireland in the Republic in recent years.

However, the number of students from the Republic studying in the North has fallen about a quarter since 2012.

The findings are contained in a joint analysis by UK and Irish higher education authorities published last month.

It warned that Brexit could have a substantial effect on the cross-Border flow of higher education students.

In the Republic, Trinity College Dublin would be most vulnerable to a reduction in number on the basis that it is the most popular choice for undergraduates resident in the North, followed by UCD, Dundalk IT and Letterkenny IT.

Most of these students are studying in fields such as business and administrative studies, medicine, historical and philosophical studies and dentistry.

In the North, the most popular destinations for undergraduate students from the Republic are Ulster University and Queen's University Belfast.

Similarly, most students are enrolled in courses linked to medicine courses or business and administrative studies.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent