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Ireland fears fee-dodger flood

Pressure is mounting on college and university places and Irish applicants are beginning to feel aggrieved, reports Colin Friar.

Irish universities are bracing themselves for a flood of English students who want to avoid paying Britain's pound;1,000-a-year tuition fees.

Pressure for university places in Ireland has already hotted up and the competition is set to increase further, causing resentment among home-based applicants.

The proportion of English students in Ireland has risen in the past few years. Meanwhile the number of Irish students choosing British universities has dropped by 30 per cent since the plans for tuition fees were announced last summer by Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett.

Noel Clarke, welfare officer of the Union of Students in Ireland, said:

"Tuition fees will have a dramatic effect on competition for an already limited number of college places in the Republic of Ireland, and will raise the entry requirements even further."

The union will be lobbying the Irish government to increase the number of university places rather than restrict foreigners.

The Irish minister for education and science, Miche l Martin, has already expressed concern to Mr Blunkett about tuition fees.

Since 199091, the number of UK students at University College Dublin has almost doubled.

Dr Tony Scott, its director of public affairs, predicts there could be further increases. He said: "Students will make their decision on economic grounds in the cool light of day." He regards flows of students between the UK and Ireland as part of the internationalisation of university education and sees scope for this to continue at UCD.

Trinity College Dublin is the main recipient of UK students in the Republic. It has already seen English numbers rise from 4.5 per cent of its student population in the early 1990s to nearly 9 per cent or more than 900 students this year.

John Raftery, from Essex, studying history at Trinity, thinks that even greater numbers of English students are inevitable.

"There is an amazing number of English students at Trinity already, and God knows what it will be like next year," he said.

David Moore, president of Trinity's students' union, agrees: "It is common sense there will be a further increase in students from the UK at Trinity."

He is concerned that access for Irish students will come under greater pressure.

Noel Clarke suggests that the solution is to widen access to third-level education rather than restrict that of foreign students. He says the students' union will be lobbying the Irish government to make up the shortfall in places for Irish students who can no longer afford to study in the UK or who are denied a college place in Ireland due to UK students taking up more places.

"Fees represent a financial barrier to education which means that the education system will not be accessible to people from all backgrounds," he said. "The extent to which this includes Irish students wishing to study in their own country remains to be seen."

Tuition fees at universities in the Republic of Ireland were abolished in 1995.

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