Abortion referendum: How UK unis are helping overseas Irish students have their say

abortion referendum help
The bursaries cover up to £110 (US$150) for flights home. Source: Gdtography/Unsplash

A number of British universities are offering their Irish students bursaries to allow them to fly back to Ireland for the May 25 referendum on abortion law.

The bursaries have been arranged through the National Union of Students’ (more commonly referred to as the NUS) campaign ‘#HomeToV8te’ and have been adopted by student unions at Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham and a number of other universities.

The campaign has largely been a success and Irish students studying in the UK at numerous universities could find themselves eligible for up to £110 (US$150) to put towards travelling back to Ireland to cast their vote in Friday’s referendum.

The NUS supports the “right to choose” and, funded by numerous private enterprises and member contributions, organised a travel bursary designed to match contributions from individual student unions at a maximum cost of £55 (US$75) per student.

NUS told its university branches students are eligible to accept political donations of up to €126.97 (US$150) which equals around £110. If the student accepted more, they would have to register as a “third party” under Ireland’s electoral law.

Thousands of women travel from Ireland to the UK every single year seeking abortions because it is currently illegal to have an abortion in Ireland unless the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s life.

The University of Cambridge’s student union is one of those on board however it has put restrictions on who is eligible. Students are only entitled to the bursary if they are voting ‘Yes’ to decriminalise abortion, the Daily Mail reported.

Cambridge’s university newspaper, Varsity, reported there are nine bursaries available funded by WomCam, the NUS’ Women’s Campaign.

Last Friday, seven of nine were already filled.

NUS Women’s Officer Hareem Ghani has announced the money NUS offers to help international students travel home for voting is not restricted to those voting ‘Yes’.


The University of Oxford was the first to join the movement, claiming its student union will offer the maximum amount of £55 (US$75) to be matched by the NUS. The money will come from its ‘discretionary fund.’

Oxford Student Union Vice President Katy Haigh told the Daily Mail the bursaries would be awarded to any Irish student who wished to travel home for the purposes of voting, no matter which way they decided to cast their ballot.

However, Haigh clarified the movement is in the spirit of “pro-choice” and the money comes “from the perspective of facilitating pro-choice allies.”

The University of Nottingham’s student union is also offering the full bursary and claimed it will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, “regardless of your voting intentions.”

“We stand firmly with our sisters fighting for repeal. The bursary is open to all eligible Irish students regardless of their voting intentions and we actively encourage Irish students to exercise their democratic right in the coming weeks,” a spokesperson for Nottingham’s student union said.

Opinion polls earlier in the week suggested ‘Yes’ was in the lead, however only narrowly. And there is speculation, following Brexit, Trump and even Malaysia’s shock election that there simply is no guarantee.

The vote truly could go either way, intensifying many students’ desire to get home and vote.

“In studying law [as an undergraduate degree] in Trinity in Dublin, I realised how difficult it [getting an abortion] was, because of the constitution, to make the law more compassionate,” London School of Economics (LSE) postgraduate student Kieran McNulty told The Guardian.

“We can’t just keep shoving women over to Liverpool [where a large majority of Irish women go for abortions]. We have to face up to reality and anything I can do to influence the outcome I will do. That’s why I’m going home. If the ‘No’ campaign won on one vote, I would feel terrible.”

Irish international students from all over the world are going the extra mile to ensure they can be there for Thursday’s vote. Sonja Rohan, a postgraduate student in Germany, is due to fly home on Thursday to cast her vote.

“We’re all a little bit on edge at the moment because the polls are so close. I think every vote is going to count and I feel privileged that in Berlin I’m close enough to get home and I can afford it,” she told The Guardian.

Reportedly, Goldsmiths University of London, the University of Birmingham, the University of Sussex, and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama are also participating in the bursary scheme.

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