Saturday 26 May 2018

'Studying in Britain not feasible if fees rise'

Sophia Walsh, Ciara Brennan, principal nursing lecturer Máire Woolven, Aisling Heeney, and Killian Dunne at Buckinghamshire New University
Sophia Walsh, Ciara Brennan, principal nursing lecturer Máire Woolven, Aisling Heeney, and Killian Dunne at Buckinghamshire New University
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The 350 Irish student nurses in Buckinghamshire New University are some of the beating hearts that make up a human bridge between Ireland and the UK. It is a link that can be traced back for generations, and which Brexit threatens to sever.

The 'Bucks' students are among about 10,000 Irish currently pursuing third-level study in Britain and Northern Ireland, often because they couldn't get the course they wanted at home.

If the UK leaves the EU, the Irish face being treated as "international students", paying higher fees with no access to UK student loans.

Chief among those who study in the UK are aspiring nurses, some who enter a UK nursing degree on the strength of a one-year post-Leaving Cert course.

At Bucks New University, on the west side of London, the Irish make up one-third of its student nursing cohort.

Limerick-born Máire Woolven, principal lecturer in nursing at the university, makes a pilgrimage home every November to visit colleges of further education.

She recruits about 150 students a year from the PLC courses, as well as direct school-leavers. Many of them, she says, "don't get a place in Ireland because they didn't get the points, that is why they are here".

And they settle quickly. "We have huge links with Ireland, our students' union has a GAA society," said Ms Woolven.

Up to last year, the NHS covered their fees, but now student nurses have to pay €9,250 a year, which has not been a deterrent. With a student loan they have 30 years to pay it back and, if not, the debt dies.

But she expresses fears that post-Brexit "if they are treated as international students, and don't have access to loans, we will have no Irish students coming over here".

Ciara Brennan (22), from Castlebar, Co Mayo, is a final-year nursing student who came via a PLC course, and has enjoyed the opportunity. In a post-Brexit scenario, if fees were higher and access to loans cut off, "it wouldn't be feasible for the Irish to study in the UK".

Irish Independent

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