Gloomy day in Donegal

1st September 2006 at 01:00
It seems colleges' hand-across-the-border approach to inclusive education in Northern Ireland is coming unstuck as the authorities crack down on colleges which take students from the south.

Apart from the predictable complaint from Sinn Fein - which blames the suspension of the Ulster assembly and, of course, the fact the border is there at all, there are also murmurings of discontent from the province's 16 colleges.

Until recently, it has been possible for teenagers in the republic to pop over into the six counties for a free place at an FE college.

Among those to benefit have been youngsters living in the county of Donegal - the thin slither of the republic which actually runs up the side of Northern Ireland.

For many in this sparsly-populated county, the trip to the North West Institute, an FE college in Londonderry, just over the border, makes a lot of sense.

But civil servants in Northern Ireland have cottoned on to the fact and are now taking a dim view of colleges which recruit from the republic without charging fees.

The Dublin government has chipped in with some cash to make sure existing students aren't disadvantaged under the new tighter regime but it remains to be seen whether the two Governments can come to a long-term arrangement.

Of course, if students from the republic can show they reside in the North, perhaps with a relative, they don't have to pay fees anyway.

So, for those who don't have an Auntie Annie North of the Border, perhaps the colleges, or Sinn Fein for that matter, could provide them with a "residential address" in the north.

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