Cross-border gains

January 5, 1996

We refer to your recent article by Paul McGill concerning the number of students from Northern Ireland pursuing their higher education in the Republic of Ireland (THES, December 8). Our first point would be to clarify the figure of Pounds 45 million put forward by the Northern Ireland Higher Education Council. This figure we feel, should read Pounds 4.5 million, as by using your own figures of 996 students currently in the Republic of Ireland this would seem to be correct.

The second point is that while the issue of loss of finance to the Northern Ireland economy has been raised in relation to the spending power of these students, it should be pointed out that British universities/higher education colleges actively compete for Republic of Ireland students to satisfy their own per capita grant system. Indeed this year alone Northern Ireland has successfully gained more than 600 students from the Republic of Ireland. It is only in one year of the past ten that more Northern Ireland students have gone to the Republic of Ireland than the other way round, representing a cumulative gain to the Northern Ireland economy.

The third point relates to a European context. The increasing propensity to travel outside of one's state to avail of higher education is partly a consequence of the 1986 European Court ruling, which defined the terms under which students could avail of higher education in other countries of the European Union. It would surely be regrettable to reduce the choice available to consumers in this area.

This, coupled with the welcome events of the past year should point us in a new direction with regard to education on this island. The 1995 Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development Economic Survey of Ireland makes some salient points in this area.

a) A priori, large outflow of graduates does not necessarily make expansion (at tertiary level) uneconomic, and indeed social returns appear high even allowing for the cost of migration.

b) "The demand for high-level skills has risen in Ireland where poorly qualified school leavers quickly become unemployed."

Therefore it is our view that both parts of this island and in particular the students themselves gain from the experience of cross-border movement.

Della Clancy AND Vincent Barry Griffith College, Dublin

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