The Irish government is considering a grant scheme for Northern Ireland students applying to universities in the Republic, to avoid fee hikes post-Brexit.
A-level students in Northern Ireland say they have been left in limbo over whether they will have to pay non-EU student fees after the UK leaves the EU in March, a factor that could heavily determine where they choose to attend university.
Irish Education Minister Joe McHugh said all Irish cabinet ministers were currently looking at their own departments to assess whether new legislation would be needed after Brexit, however 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 euro (£2,700) a year towards their tuition, the same as those from Ireland and the rest of the EU.
However, those fees could rise by at least 10,000 euro (£9,000) a year if Northern Ireland students were to be classed as non-EU after Brexit.
The most recent figures from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) show that there were 1,328 students from Northern Ireland at universities, colleges and institutes of technology in the Republic in 2017/18.
Students from Northern Ireland who are already studying at a university in the Republic of Ireland have been told their current fees will not change over the course of their degree.