Trinity College aims to triple student intake from Northern Ireland
Trinity College in Dublin has launched an initiative to triple its intake of students from Northern Ireland.
The historic institution has set itself a target of having 8% of its student body from north of the border, which equates to 300 students a year.
Admissions from Northern Ireland have declined in recent years primarily due to entrance criteria that effectively limits successful applications to those who have done four A-levels.
As only one in every eight students north of the border elects to take on four A-levels, the pool from which it can attract candidates is much more limited than universities in the UK.
Trinity said its effort to increase intake was a reassertion of its historic mission to be a university for the whole island.
It has announced a feasibility study to find a new way of admitting A-level applicants from across the EU, which will be tested in the first instance in Northern Ireland.
Provost of Trinity Dr Patrick Prendergast said there was a need to reverse the decline in Northern Ireland students.
"Trinity has historically been a university for the whole island, attracting students with ability and potential from every county," he said.
"Unfortunately in the last few years our numbers from Northern Ireland have been in decline, and this has been a source of deep regret to our alumni, our students, our staff, and to me personally. With this feasibility study Trinity has acted to restore and re-establish a relationship that has done so much to build close links on this island between people from all backgrounds and traditions."
During the past year Trinity has embarked on an engagement programme north of the border, visiting schools and careers fairs across Northern Ireland with student ambassadors from the current study community, and has attempted to "reconnect" with schools, parents, teachers and alumni.
The feasibility study draws on that work by seeking to remove the four A-level obstacle.
For admissions in September next year, Trinity will admit a number of students from Northern Ireland looking purely at the best 3 A-levels of the applicant.
All courses with the exception of medicine are included but only a maximum of three students per course will be admitted using the new route.
The minimum grade requirement is A, B, B.
Praising the initiative, Irish Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn said: "An all-island approach to education brings immense benefits to both societies. I am delighted to see Trinity finding innovative ways to attract students from Northern Ireland to study here at third level.
"I know that the university sector as a whole continues to work collectively towards enhancing opportunities for Northern Irish students to enter Irish university programmes. I very much welcome this collaborative approach."
Minister for Education in Northern Ireland John O'Dowd echoed his counterpart's comments.
"I welcome this initiative from Trinity which will make studying there much more accessible to students from the north," he said.
"I am pleased that the necessity for applicants from the north to have four A-levels is being relaxed, as this has been one of the main barriers in the past. I look forward to similar approaches being taken by the other universities in the south."
Stormont Minister for Employment and Learning Dr Stephen Farry added: "Cross-border co-operation and undergraduate mobility between institutions in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are important from an economic, social and cultural perspective. I welcome this announcement by Trinity College Dublin which supports greater cross-border student mobility.
"I am committed to working on an all-Ireland basis to remove barriers to student mobility and to supporting cross-border co-operation in teaching and learning, with the aim of increasing understanding, sharing good practice and enabling students to move freely between the two jurisdictions."
Dr Prendergast said he was not just in favour of more student mobility from north to south.
"We are keen to support student mobility across the whole island, from south to north as well as north to south," he said.