Thursday 15 November 2018

State and UK unite to keep the door open for students

Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The Irish and British governments are working hard to protect existing arrangements between the two countries in the areas of higher education and research, but much depends on the final Brexit deal.

Earlier this month, UK Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds visited Dublin to reinforce the close relationship between the two countries.

He met Education Minister Richard Bruton and both reiterated their commitment to maintaining the Common Travel Area, which ensures reciprocal rights to access education at all levels for Irish and British citizens in each other's countries.

They agreed officials would work together to ensure access was maintained and also discussed broader education cooperation.

Irish students in the UK would continue to be treated as domestic, as opposed to international, students.

They would continue to pay standard fees and have access to its student loans system. Similarly, UK students in the Republic would be considered EU students.

There are about 10,000 State students in England, Scotland and Wales, and about 2,000 in Northern Ireland - important outlets for Irish students, many of whom go because they cannot access a preferred course at home.

However, uncertainty around Brexit is blamed for a recent drop in applications, and there has also been a fall in demand from UK students seeking to study here.

While there is optimism about maintaining existing arrangements for students, there is much uncertainty about how Brexit will affect valuable EU-funded research collaborations between Ireland and the UK.

The UK's exit from the EU creates opportunities for Ireland, but the reality is that the State gains from having such a big-hitting neighbour at the EU table.

The UK, with its string of elite universities, is a major beneficiary of EU research funding. It receives back more than it contributes - and Ireland benefits.

Under the €80bn EU Horizon 2020 research programme, the UK is Ireland's largest partner, with currently more than 900 projects between the two countries funded by it.

Mr Hinds also met the British Irish Chamber of Commerce and confirmed the UK's intention to remain part of Horizon, as well as the Erasmus+ student and teacher mobility programme.

But there is no agreement on the future status of the UK relationship with Horizon, on either their level of contribution or level of influence. It would be unacceptable to the UK for the EU to reduce their status to that of third-party, where they would be rule-takers rather than rule-shapers.

Dublin City University vice-president Professor Daire Keogh, who chairs the British Irish Chamber of Commerce Higher Education and Research Committee, said it was something Ireland would want to avoid.

"It is vital they remain in an influential position because of the extent of collaboration between Ireland and the UK," he said.

Irish Independent

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