Education is a sector with high levels of mobility for staff and students. This mobility is particularly prevalent between Ireland and the UK. Indeed, for decades, the Common Travel Area (CTA) has provided Irish students with the opportunity to study in the UK and vice versa.
Fortunately, the terms of studying, in the UK will remain essentially identical for Irish students post-Brexit. Nevertheless, the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU will impact elements of Ireland’s education arrangements with the UK.
Primary and Post-Primary Education
In terms of primary and post-primary education, the Department of the Taoiseach has confirmed that children are fully entitled to attend primary and secondary school on a cross-border basis – i.e. a resident in Ireland is entitled to attend a primary school in Northern Ireland.
The North/ South Scholarship Scheme
In terms of cross-border education, the importance of academic connectedness between Ireland and Northern Ireland is demonstrated by the North/ South Scholarship Scheme, a postgraduate scholarship that promotes cross-border education. The North/ South Scholarship Scheme offers four scholarships worth €15,000 to postgraduate students engaging in cross-border study. The Scheme remains in operation.
UK Applications and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS)
In terms of access to higher education, Irish nationals can access higher education in the UK post-Brexit. Applications for UK higher education institutions are facilitated by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). All applications to UK higher education institutions are lodged through UCAS.
While the applications process for EU nationals has altered, the applications process for Irish nationals remains identical to the pre-Brexit applications process. For EU students, fees, financial aid and residency rights in the UK have changed. For Irish students, fees, financial aid and residency rights in the UK remain relatively unchanged.
In Ireland, the Central Applications Office (CAO) and the State Examinations Commission (SEC) are working with British officials to ensure continuity with regards to the applications process.
UK Fees and the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
In terms of fees, Irish nationals attending a UK higher education institution will pay identical fees to UK nationals. In a document published in December 2020, the UK Department for Education outlined the rules for ‘home fee’ status and student finance. Irish nationals will pay ‘home fees’.
With regards to ‘home fees’, higher education institutions in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are entitled to request £9,000 a year for an undergraduate degree. In contrast, higher education in Scotland is covered by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).
The SAAS pays the fees of eligible ‘home fee’ students. The SAAS has confirmed that Irish nationals remain eligible for ‘home fee’ status in Scotland. While EU nationals were eligible for ‘home fee’ status in Scotland, from 2021, EU nationals will be ineligible and will pay an ‘international fee’ instead. Fees for postgraduate degrees vary.
From 2021, EU nationals attending a British higher education institution will pay ‘overseas fees’ as opposed to ‘home fees’, as a consequence, fees for EU nationals will be higher than they were pre-Brexit.
Student Financial Aid & the Student Grant Scheme (SGS)
In terms of financial aid, Student Universal Support Ireland’s (SUSI) Student Grant Scheme (SGS) remains in operation for eligible Irish and UK students. The grant will apply for eligible Irish applicants studying in UK higher education institutions and for eligible UK applicants studying in Irish higher education institutions.
The SGS consists of a ‘maintenance grant’ which aids students with day-to-day expenses, and a ‘fee grant’ which aids students with fees, with the student contribution and with student field trips.
The ‘maintenance’ grant is the only grant open to Irish students studying outside of Ireland, as Irish students studying outside of Ireland are ineligible for the ‘fee grant’. All applications for the SGS are lodged through SUSI.
Additional funding opportunities for Irish students include the All-Ireland Scholarship Scheme and the Third Level Bursary Scheme. A list of these scholarships is available from the Department of Further and Higher Education.
Students who are ineligible for SUSI grants can apply for a student loan. In the UK Student Finance loans consist of Tuition Fee loans and Maintenance loans. Irish nationals studying in the UK remain eligible for Student Finance loans.
UK Students in Ireland
The terms of study for UK nationals in Ireland remain essentially identical. Applications for Irish higher education institutions are facilitated by the Central Applications Office (CAO). With respect to fees, UK nationals attending an Irish higher education institution pay identical fees to Irish nationals. In terms of financial aid, UK nationals are eligible for Student University Support Ireland’s (SUSI) Student Grant Scheme (SGS).
Erasmus+ is an EU education programme that provides funding for individuals and organisations. The programme funds education projects including foreign study, foreign traineeships, teaching staff traineeships and partnerships between organisations. The programme’s purpose is to promote development in higher education and to address educational issues including adult learning, youth school leaving and youth unemployment.
In terms of Brexit, the Erasmus+ programme remains fully in operation for Irish and EU nationals. The UK however, has decided to exit programme. The UK’s decision to exit the programme means that mobility to UK higher education institutions under the Erasmus+ programme is unavailable.
In Ireland, the Government is planning to introduce a scheme enabling eligible Northern Irish students to participate in the Erasmus+ programme on the basis of temporary registration at Irish higher education institutions. The Minister for Education has stated that while these discussions are in process, the scheme is expected to be in place for the 2021 academic year.
While the UK has decided to exit Erasmus+, it has introduced a similar scheme, the Turing Scheme. In contrast to Erasmus+, the Turing Scheme is only directly open to organisations, organisations are then expected to encourage their students to apply for funding. Irish students in UK higher education institutions will be able to apply to their institution for funding.
Where We Stand
In terms of study, Brexit has had relatively limited impact on most Irish students. Irish students retain the right to study in the UK through the Common Travel Area (CTA) and levels of access to education in terms of fees and financial aid remain identical to pre-Brexit levels. Nevertheless, there are changes in the educations sector, primarily related to the UK’s decision to exit the Erasmus+ programme.