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Students facing major fees hike in Republic over UK quitting EU

By Rebecca Black

Students from Northern Ireland who attend universities in the Republic may face fees of tens of thousands of euro following Brexit.

There is currently a capped charge of €3,000 (£2,500) at Irish universities for EU students. However, when Northern Ireland leaves the EU along with the rest of the UK, fears have been voiced that NI students could be charged the significantly higher fees that non-EU students must pay.

Trinity College, Dublin and University College Dublin both charge annual fees to non-EU students of around €18,000 (£15,205) for many undergraduate courses.

However, some courses such as medical degrees can cost as much as €40,000 (£33,790) per year.

NUI Galway charge €12,750 (£10,770) annually and the University of Limerick charge between €11,423 (£9,649) and €15,358 (£12,973), depending on the course.

In comparison, students from Northern Ireland currently pay £4,030 a year to study at local universities, and around £9,000 to study at universities in other regions of the UK.

The Dail's Opposition spokesman on education Thomas Byrne has called on the Irish government to commit to a guarantee that students from Northern Ireland will not be subject to non-EU fees after Brexit.

The Fianna Fail TD said that the Irish government needs to deal with this issue quickly to reassure students and their families.

Student leader Fergal McFerran also urged the Irish government to address the matter as a priority.

"Leaving the European Union will undoubtedly have profound and damning implications for students and for tertiary education more widely," the NUS-USI president said.

"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.

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

Irish education minister Richard Bruton did not respond when asked to comment on these calls.

A spokesman for the minister directed the Belfast Telegraph to a recent Dail debate where Mr Bruton spoke of his concern to "protect, to the greatest extent possible, student mobility between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the UK and within the EU and to support our strategy to increase non-EU student flows".

In the debate, he said he had met with former Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir and Economy Minister Simon Hamilton on the matter, as well as the UK's Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening.

Mr Bruton said current students from the EU and those applying to courses starting in 2017-18 will not see any changes to their loan eligibility or tuition fee status. This position will apply for the full duration of the course, even if the course finishes after the UK has left the EU.

However, there has not been any similar reassurance for those who apply after 2017-18.

Mr Byrne said Brexit is causing a great deal of ambiguity and worry for many students and their families.

"I believe that 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 - they should be treated the same as they are today," he said.

"Moreover, under the Good Friday Agreement, citizens in Northern Ireland are entitled to both British and Irish citizenship and thus in effect EU citizenship. Therefore, students from Northern Ireland have an entitlement to EU citizenship and this entitlement and its many benefits, needs to be upheld in full."

The warning from Fianna Fail comes following a significant rise in the number of Northern Ireland students applying for university places in the south.

There was a rise of almost 25% in the number in 2016, believed to be due to a re-weighting of A-Level grades for admissions to Irish universities.

Last year, 1,718 students from Northern Ireland had applied to higher education institutions in the Republic by the deadline of February 1, 2016.

That was a rise of just over 24% from 1,383 applications by February last year, according to figures from the Republic of Ireland's Central Applications Office (CAO).

The latest figures for this year have not yet been released by region.

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