NI students in limbo over Irish tuition fees

By Robbie Meredith
BBC News NI Education Correspondent

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media captionHannah Kerr wants to study in the Republic of Ireland but is concerned about the fees

Northern Ireland pupils applying to start university in the Republic of Ireland this year still do not know how much they will pay in tuition fees.

That is because it is still not clear if they will be treated as non-EU students after Brexit.

Non-EU students pay much higher fees than students from the Republic and the rest of the EU.

There are calls for the Irish government to provide clarity on the matter.

image captionThe first stage of the Irish university application process closes next month

They pay a "student contribution" fee of €3,000 (£2,700) a year towards their tuition, the same as their counterparts from Ireland and the EU.

The majority receive a student loan to cover that charge.

'Impossible to pay'

However, those fees could rise by at least €10,000 (£9,000) a year if Northern Ireland students were classed as non-EU after Brexit.

Students from Northern Ireland who are already at an Irish university have been told their current fees will not change over the course of their degree.

However, pupils intending to begin their studies in September have received no such clarity, in spite of the first stage of the university application process in the Irish Republic closing on 1 February.

One of those affected is north Belfast sixth-former Hannah Kerr, who has applied to study at Trinity College in Dublin and the National University of Ireland in Galway.

She could face tuition fees of €19,000 (£17,000) a year depending on the course she chooses and she said that would be impossible for her to pay.

"There's no way anybody really could afford to pay that much, when you could be paying around £4,000 here or £9,000 in the rest of the UK," she said.

image source, Getty/Vasyl Dolmatov
image captionThe lack of information about fees is causing confusion for NI students, says Nicola Mallon

"I would really just hope for some clarity to be provided on that."

"It's very frustrating to not know because obviously it's a huge decision that's going to impact the rest of your life.

"So if we don't have all the information there at our disposal we can't make that decision as best we can."

'Really need guidance'

Nichola Mallon, the SDLP MLA for north Belfast, said that the Irish government needed to give Northern Ireland pupils financial clarity.

"The lack of certainty around fees and the status of northern students is causing huge anxiety and confusion," she said.

"Where people can provide some kind of direction they should and we really need direction, guidance and advice from the Irish government."

The Republic of Ireland's Department for Education and Skills has so far been unable to tell BBC News NI when any decision is likely to be made.

Sources at universities in the Republic have said they expect the existing fees for Northern Ireland students to continue after Brexit.

But, until that is confirmed, those like Hannah and others looking south to start university are left in limbo.

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