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Learning about your national identity - the hard way

IT'S amazing what a difference a bit of ocean can make. While students on this side of the Irish Sea are coming to terms with fee-fuelled debt those in the Republic of Ireland do not have to pay for their tuition.

And it is not just Irish students who have benefited. Trinity College Dublin has seen a surge in the number of British students crossing the sea to study.

In 1997-98 the last year before fees were introduced in the UK 277 British students were studying at Trinity. That increased to 437 this year.

But free tuition is not the only attraction for those who decide to study in Dublin. Espin Bowder from Canterbury is in the fourth year of a geology course at Trinity. He decided to come to Ireland while on a family holiday. "I was looking at English universities but Trinity was the only one I really felt at home at. I knew it had a good reputation," he said.

While at Trinity, Espin Bowder has noticed an increase in the number of English students. However, he has been the only Brit in his class, an experience that has sometimes worked to his advantage.

"You feel yourself slightly different from those around you. You can get away with a bit more being a foreign student. You can crack gags in class that other people might get pulled up for," h said.

But despite Ireland's reputation for enjoying a tipple, he says that those wanting to spend the university years in the bar would be better off staying at home.

"I would encourage British students to come here but they shouldn't expect it to be like an English university. The Irish attitude is more diligent and there's less of a boozy culture," he said.

But will employers at home recognise the results of that hard work? Ayesha Saran from London who graduated from Trinity with a first in English and Spanish thinks so.

"Having a Trinity degree is a good way to bypass the Oxbridge snobbery which still affects the job prospects of some graduates in the UK. Trinity is fairly well-known outside Ireland and because the Irish system operates in a similar way to its British counterpart, I haven't encountered any problems getting my qualifications recognised," she said.

Mr Bowder says that not everyone finds Ireland to their liking. "It's not all plain-sailing. One girl I knew left after half a year to go back and study in Leeds. I don't think life here was quite what she expected. Being a Brit in Dublin forces you to think about your own nationality a lot. There are certain pubs I wouldn't shout in. You have to be sensitive," he said.

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