Republic's government considers grants for Northern Ireland students after Brexit
THE Republic's government is considering a grant scheme for Northern Ireland students applying to southern universities to avoid a post-Brexit hike in fees.
A-level students in the north say they have been left in limbo over whether they will have to pay non-EU student fees after the UK's planned departure from the EU in March - a factor that could heavily determine where they choose to study.
The Republic's education minister Joe McHugh said all cabinet colleagues were looking at their own departments to assess whether new legislation would be needed after Brexit, but he had been made aware of this specific issue in the last few days.
"We'll be looking within the education department around support grants or systems for students in Northern Ireland as to what will happen in 2019 or 2020 and the years following," he said.
"I had a very good conversation with (minister for foreign affairs) Simon Coveney this morning, he's very much of the opinion, like myself, that the common travel area agreements that we have will be protected in the eventuality of even a hard Brexit or no deal."
When asked if students from Northern Ireland would need an Irish passport to secure the proposed grants, Mr McHugh said the fine print had not yet been set out.
"Every Northern Irish citizen, when they're born, has the option of being an Irish or British citizen or both, whatever the stipulation or small print that's needed, the most important thing is the systems in place at the moment continue, and that's where I'm keeping my focus at the moment," he said.
"We're very conscious about the uncertainty that has arisen because of this conversation in the last few days."
Students from Northern Ireland currently pay €3,000 (£2,700) a year towards their tuition, the same as those from the Republic and the rest of the EU.
However, those fees could rise by at least €10,000 (£9,000) a year if Northern Ireland students were to be classed as non-EU after Brexit.
The most recent figures from the Republic's Higher Education Authority show that there were 1,328 students from Northern Ireland at universities, colleges and institutes of technology in 2017/18.
Students from Northern Ireland who are already studying at a university in the Republic have been told their current fees will not change over the course of their degree.