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Applications from EU for places in Irish universities treble since Brexit

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Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said it was important to stress that a growth in international applications did not come at the expense of Irish applicants. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said it was important to stress that a growth in international applications did not come at the expense of Irish applicants. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said it was important to stress that a growth in international applications did not come at the expense of Irish applicants. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Applications from EU students who want to study in Irish universities have more than trebled since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

CAO figures show ongoing growth in the applications from other EU countries, as well as from Britain and other non-EU countries.

The biggest increase has been among students from other EU states, jumping from 1,934 in 2017 to 6,383 this year.

The trend has accelerated since 2020/2021, when the UK formally left the EU.

Overall, non-domestic applications to the CAO have risen from 5,063 to 9,616 since 2020.

Brexit has made Ireland a more attractive destination for those who want to study in an English-speaking country.

Not all international applications translated into acceptance of places, but the figures underscore growing interest in Ireland.

Applications from Britain have risen but those from the North remain at a low level

In the past couple of years the delayed release of CAO offers is likely have been a factor in a gap between applications and acceptances.

CAO Round 1 has been up to three weeks later than usual due to the exceptional Leaving Cert arrangements due to Covid, and international applicants may have accepted an earlier offer elsewhere.

While there is a rise in interest from British students, applications from Northern Ireland are, at best, stable and at a low level.

CAO applications from British students have increased by 9pc this year, and 39pc over the last two years, rising from 760 to 970 to 1,050.

But applications from Northern Ireland have hardly changed, and, in fact, dipped from 1,418 to 1,408 over the past two years.

The Oireachtas Education Committee recently explored a range of issues affecting enrolments, from both north to south and south to north, and has made a series of recommendations.

Cross-border enrolments are seen as mutually beneficial in economic and social terms, but remain at a very low level, the report states.

The cost of living and, in particular the cost of rent, is one of the most cited reasons for students in the North turning down offers from colleges in the Republic, it adds.

Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris said the overall CAO application figures showed the desire to study in Irish universities was increasing year on year.

Brexit has made Ireland a more attractive destination for those who want to study in an English-speaking country

He said as Ireland continued to invest more in higher education, the system would continue to grow, reform and improve.

The increase in international interest comes as universities are also bracing for a surge in domestic school-leaver applicants as a result of the baby boom of the early noughties.

Mr Harris said it was important to stress that a growth in international applications did not come at the expense of Irish applicants.

Addressing the issue of north-south mobility, the minister said he wanted to see “greater exchange of students across our island and that is why we are working with the Northern Ireland institutions to create better pathways, particularly in healthcare”.

In one initiative, the minister and his officials are in discussions about CAO applicants accessing 50 medical school places a year in the North from 2023.

Mr Harris said he wanted to see progress on a range of north-south initiatives in third-level education and skills over the course of the next 12 months.

This includes all-island apprenticeship programmes, a review of how to improve student mobility north and south, the roll-out of all-island skills programmes and progress on supporting the expansion of the Magee Campus of Ulster University in Derry, to which the Irish Government has committed.


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