EDUCATION secretary David Blunkett has refused to budge on tuition fees despite continued fears that they will jeopardise educational opportunities for thousands of Irish students, writes Alan Thomson.
Mr Blunkett met Irish education and science minister Miche l Martin last week. Mr Martin was keen to talk about the possible effects of fees on the estimated 4,000 Irish students who study in Britain or Northern Ireland each year.
Mr Blunkett told Mr Martin that it was not the government's intention to deter Irish students from coming to the United Kingdom. He stressed that students from lower-income families would be exempt from the Pounds 1,000 a-year means-tested tuition fees set to be introduced next year. The Irish education department has refused to comment further.
But Mr Blunkett's reassurance has done nothing to quell the fears of the Conference of Heads of Irish Universities, equivalent to the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals.
Conference director Michael McGrath said that Irish universities are already full and that tuition fees for British universities could mean more people decide to apply for courses in the Republic. Mr McGrath said: "It would impact on students whose desires will not be met."
The Union of Students in Ireland says that many Irish students travel to the UK because grants and loans are higher.
A spokeswoman said that Irish students could, therefore, be caught in a no-win situation where they either pay for tuition fees in the UK or stay at home and struggle on a low grant if they are lucky enough to find a place at university.