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Brexit: the good and bad for Irish universities and students

By Anne Sexton - Last update


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Will Brexit make it more difficult for Irish students to secure places on third-level courses? The short answer is “maybe.”

Brexit will affect Ireland’s third-level institutions, but there are both opportunities and threats ahead.

There are opportunities to attract academics, students and funding. However, it may negatively impact Irish-UK academic research, as well as Irish students, both here and in the UK.

Once the UK withdraws from the European Union, Ireland and Malta will be the only two English-speaking countries in the EU. This means that Ireland could conceivably attract English-speaking academics and international students who wish to study in English. Greater access to renowned highly skilled academics, and their funding, should help Ireland’s universities achieve higher international rankings.

International students

Annually, tens of thousands of foreign students opt to study through English. In addition, several thousands more choose to study English. Both of these groups represent an opportunity for Irish education providers.

International students represent a funding windfall for third-level institutions. A number of universities have threatened to restrict places for Irish students in favour of international ones due to the current funding crisis. Therefore, Irish students may find it harder to secure their first or second choice courses.

Difficulty obtaining places is one of the reasons 14,000 Irish students enrol in third-level courses in the UK every year.

After Brexit, these students are likely to be liable for international student fees. This may well be the case for students from the Republic of Ireland whose choose to study in Northern Ireland as well. Around 2,000 Irish students enrol in course in the North every year, often because they were unable to secure a place at an Irish institution.

Furthermore, a number of students and academics live on one side of the border and study or work on the other. A hard border would curtail free travel, making cross-border working or studying difficult.

EU academic funding

The EU has deep pockets for funding academic research. Currently, the UK receives a significant amount of these funds. Post-Brexit, there should be more money available to all member states. Theoretically, this should benefit Ireland.

However, the UK receives large amounts of research funding because of the quality of its universities. Furthermore, there are close links between Irish and British researchers. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of EU grants to Ireland had a British partner.

Brexit is almost certain to impact Ireland’s third-level education system. Whatever the outcome, Ireland’s education providers have little to no power to influence negotiations.


Anne Sexton

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