Cross-border trade for Irish students grows

December 8, 1995

The capping of higher education places in Northern Ireland to save money has backfired as students denied places at local colleges have simply gone to Britain or the Republic of Ireland.

Instead of saving money on mandatory awards, the five education and library boards have had to pay more "away from home" rather than "at home" grants.

In addition, students' spending power has been lost to the Northern Ireland economy, adding to a financial drain estimated at Pounds 45 million by the Northern Ireland Higher Education Council.

Private colleges south of the border have benefitted most. Figures from four of the five boards show that recruitment from Northern Ireland at Griffith, Portobello and the Accountancy and Business College in Dublin totalled 326 in the two years before capping but tripled to 996 in 1994/95.

In the Southern Board area, nearest to Dublin, the number of students admitted to private colleges in the Republic more than doubled from 180 to 375 between the two-year periods; enrolments at public colleges and universities across the border also rose by 41, producing a total increase of 82 per cent.

In the north-east, 32 went south in 1992/93 and 70 in 1993/94, jumping to 104 the following year and falling back to 77 this autumn. Belfast had a similar pattern, with figures of 46 and 59 rising to 85 last year and dropping back to 59 this year.

In the west, numbers going to the private southern colleges continued to grow, from 23 in 1992 to 86 a year later, to 211 in 1994 and 4 this autumn: this makes an increase of 345 per cent in the two latest years, compared with the two earlier ones.

There is particular anger at the curb on growth in further education, which was not told until April that it would be capped from September.

"The colleges have only just been merged to strengthen their ability to offer higher education courses, but now they are being prevented from doing so," complained Archie McKelvy, chairman of the Southern Board.

Newry College had already attracted more than enough applications for planned HND courses in caring, business information technology and building studies when the cap forced it to abandon them and scale down other courses.

"Most applicants lived locally, and in a place like Newry with high unemployment it is very difficult for many of them to afford to live away from home," said the principal, Raymond Mullan.

"A lot of them got grants to other colleges in England or across the border so it did not save any money in the end of the day. It is a bit ludicrous when we are funded to run the courses and when we are trying to improve the skills base of the area - and we know that many of the people who leave to study will not come back," he added.

Enniskillen College had 30 surplus applications for one course which was dropped; a survey showed that nine of these finished up in private Dublin colleges with awards from the Western Board. Altogether it believes 45 students who wanted to enrol in the college had to go elsewhere because of capping.

North Down and Ards College estimates it may have lost Pounds 500,000 from its budget because of capping, causing a "catastrophic change" in its planned growth targets. "The irony of this situation is that the overall cost to the Northern Ireland exchequer is increased by a policy which was supposedly designed to save money," said a college spokesman.

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