Northern Irish students demand from govt more certainty over post-Brexit fees
The Old Library building at Trinity College in Dublin. If Northern Irish students are deemed "Non-EU" students, they will face fee rates almost 13 times more than what they are paying as EU students in schools in Republic of Ireland now. Source: Shutterstock

In the midst of sweeping fee hikes in Australian universities, opposition politicians in Northern Ireland are calling on its government for more certainty over the fees its students in the Republic of Ireland would have to pay once the UK leaves the European Union (EU).

According to the BBC, the Fianna Fáil’s (Republican Party) wants a guarantee Northern Irish students would not have to pay non-EU student fees in the Republic’s universities post-Brexit.

Leaving the EU essentially means Northern Irish students would no longer fall under the category of “EU students”, which in turn means they no longer qualify for the subsidised fees they currently enjoy. If they are deemed “Non-EU” students, they will face fee rates that are very much higher than what they are currently paying to study at the Republic’s schools now.

“The minister for education and the government need to act on this and provide certainty on the issue of fees for Northern students coming south,” Thomas Byrne, the education spokesman for the party said.

“They should be treated the same as they are today.”

According to Belfast Telegraph, the Republic’s education minister has given assurance there will be no change in fees for EU students taking courses at its schools during 2017-2018. This will continue to apply for the full duration of their course, even if it finishes after the UK leaves the EU.

However, the position after 2017-2018 remains unknown.

Byrne said to raise the fees would be to place a heavy financial burden on Northern Irish students wishing to study in the Republic as well as to break the various peace deals and cross-border work between the two countries.

Fees for Northern Irish students studying in the Republic are now capped at EUR3,000 (£2,500) yearly as they are deemed EU students.

By contrast, international students from outside EU can be charged up to EUR40,000 per year for their undergraduate courses. If Northern Irish students are deemed as non-EU students post-Brexit, they may be slapped with fees around 13 times what they are paying now.

A similar affair is playing out between Australia and New Zealand in recent days as the Australian government announced an education reforms package that will no longer allow New Zealanders to enjoy subsidised fees at its universities. Kiwis studying in universities across the Tasman face having to pay up to four times the current fee rate now.

‘United in opposing any increase’

Northern Irish students are urging their government to prioritise this issue, pointing to the “damning implications” Brexit will have on students and tertiary education as a whole.

“Any measures that can be taken to protect the mobility of students across the island of Ireland, and the accessibility of third level education to those students, should be seen as a priority,” student leader and president of the National Union of Students Northern Ireland Fergal McFerran said to Belfast Telegraph.

“As there are ongoing debates – both north and south – about the future funding of higher education I can be no clearer than to say the student movement across this island is united in opposing any increase in fees.”

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