With much of the political and social fallout from Brexit still to be sorted, Daniel Forde investigates what the ramifications will be for Irish universities and students
The effects of Brexit and the consequences it will have on third-level students are still only emerging. Britain’s decision to leave the EU will have wide ranging ramifications for university life both at home and abroad. Because of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit there has been a sharp increase in the amount of applications from international students to Irish universities. The British government have promised that fees and financial aid for EU students will remain the same for the current academic year. However, apart from Scotland, there is no similar guarantee that this will continue into next year, or even beyond that, according to Deputy First Minister of Scotland John Swinney.
It is probable that EU students will need to apply for student visas in the UK, but this system could also change. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has commented that a two-tier system could be introduced, whereby “lower quality courses” would have stricter rules concerning immigration. UCD alone can report an increase in non-EU student applications of 26% while UCC can boast the even more staggering 40% increase. This rise in numbers could lead to universities being strained in their capacity to admit students. UCD President Andrew Deeks has suggested that places available to Irish students may need to be capped to accommodate the greater demand.
“Brexit could lead to Irish universities becoming more selective in who they give places, as well as potentially more strained in their ability to cater to student needs.”
Not only would places be affected by incoming international students but increased competition for places could also arise amongst Irish students. The lack of clarity over the British government’s approach to EU students has meant that fewer Irish students are choosing to study in the UK. Already UCAS has reported an 18% drop in Irish student applications. If this number continues to decline it means there will be more students looking to study at home. The logical consequence of this is that CAO points will rise, meaning it could be difficult to secure a place in the course of your choice. The increase in international applications may also exacerbate this increased competition. The CAO has reported that the number of EU applications has risen to 17%. Both of these developments could lead to the Leaving Cert having even greater weight for Irish Students and a more competitive atmosphere would surround college applications. Furthermore, third-level institutions would need greater funding in order to meet this growing demand. Brexit could lead to Irish universities becoming more selective in who they give places to, as well as potentially more strained in their ability to cater to student needs.
Brexit could also create a challenge for cooperation between Irish and British universities. Already the prospect of Brexit has made many academic staff in the UK reconsider working in British universities. In a January 2017 survey carried out by the University and College Union, of 1000 lecturers and professors, three quarters of continental EU academics said they are more likely to leave the country after Brexit. This would affect Ireland as it means the potential to share and pursue new academic research would be greatly reduced. In Horizon 2020, an EU innovation and research programme, the UK is Ireland’s largest collaborator with total academic partnerships numbering 900. The UK receives approximately £2 billion back from this program which is now under threat from Brexit. The potential outcome of all this is a large portion of current research in Irish universities could decline due to the twin reasons of a lack of funding and more restrictive political conditions. Thus not only could undergraduates lose out under Brexit but post-graduates and university staff would suffer too.
“In short, Ireland’s universities could convert Brexit from a crisis into an opportunity but only if they act swiftly and decisively.”
However, there may also be a silver lining. A report by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) last year reflected on how Irish universities could benefit post-Brexit. Ireland could position itself as a magnet for academic talent if education received the right kind of investment. We offer easy access to European institutions and once the UK leaves we will be one of the few native English speaking nations in the EU. Our academic programs would be significantly enhanced by EU funding. The HEA also suggested that Ireland could market itself as a hub for high quality academic by reaching out internationally to other universities in research programs. Another more tangible benefit would be the revenue gained from international students attending our colleges, estimated at €1.4 billion a year. Unfortunately, to accommodate all of this we would need both investment in our universities and planning in order to properly implement it. In short, Ireland’s universities could convert Brexit from a crisis into an opportunity but only if they act swiftly and decisively.