Confused about what Brexit actually means and how it will impact you? This month, STAND’s Brexit Series will help you understand how we got into this situation, what the proposed deal contains, where the negotiations are at now, and how a no-deal Brexit will impact Ireland, the UK and more widely the EU. If you’re new to the series, no worries, here are the basics, the EU’s perspective, a view of the most crazy week, and what it means for Ireland.
Brexit will have various repercussions, including on education. To have a better understanding of how Brexit will impact students in Ireland we talked to USI Vice President for the Dublin Region, Craig McHugh, and with NUS-USI President based in Belfast, Robert Murtagh.
What’s the students’ Unions position on Brexit?
“Our position is that there’s no better deal than the deal we have currently within the European Union” states Murtagh. “Brexit is going to be bad for students. We don’t dress that up. We oppose it” completes his colleague from the South, Craig McHugh.
When talking about the latest negotiated deal, Murtagh affirms that “it’s cautious, it’s not overly optimistic, but it’s probably the best that we’re going to get.” In the end, both Unions were relieved they were “not looking at a no deal Brexit. A deal, whether it was good or not, was better than no deal.”
This deal respects the Good Friday Agreement “as much as it can” because “Brexit is pretty much in conflict with the Good Friday Agreement” reminds McHugh. “I don’t think protecting the Good Friday Agreement is on the British Government agenda. I do think it’s on the agenda of the Irish Government and the European Union” indicates Murtagh.
What about mobility?
The first point of action for both the USI and NUS-USI is to guarantee mobility for students. As McHugh sums it up, “Brexit is going to damage the livelihoods of students going to College in the Republic and who are from Northern Ireland or from the UK.” We’re talking here for example about Northern Irish students coming to Galway, Cork or Dublin but also of situations such as the Donegal/Derry connection, or the Dundalk/Newry border. “It’s that kind of relationships that will be seriously damaged for lecturing staff crossing the border and getting to work on a daily basis” says McHugh. To talk in numbers, about 5% of Dublin’s students are from the North. There are 12,500 students travelling between Ireland and the UK annually whose freedom of movement would be impacted by any kind of border.
In light of the above, it seems clear that the border is a main concern for students of the Irish island. “We can’t imagine a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. That cannot happen” emphasizes Murtagh. The border issue “turns people away from viewing Ireland as a whole island. Economy is a whole island; education system is a whole island” affirms McHugh. “Borders really are not the solution here.”
From where we’re standing now, we don’t know what’s going to happen. There could be a new Government in the UK, and then a new deal. Yet, it seems unlikely that students’ rights would get less protection if the deal should be renegotiated.
The USI met with the Department of Foreign Affairs which reinsured that both Northern Ireland and Ireland will work together to make sure that this mobility won’t be impacted. “We are happy with what we are getting from the Department. They are preparing in the right way and they’ve been listening to us” reveals McHugh.
What consequences for Irish students?
According to McHugh, “Ireland is not investing enough in housing, in infrastructures, to deal with the Brexit consequences”, which will impact Irish students as well as international students.
The Brexit’s economic impact on Ireland will have repercussions on students as well: while politicians are addressing economic issues, they’re not focusing on the underfunding of education nor the rise of the cost of living. The focus on Brexit also makes it difficult to get new policies through such as allowing more to SUSI grants.
From a Northern perspective, “another concern is the increase of fees, which the Irish and British Government agreed not to accept. We have to make sure there’s no bureaucratic issues for students crossing the border that might lead them to having to pay more or to lose support that they have” points out Murtagh.
Also, there’s a big focus on the future of the Erasmus program. In the North, “we need commitment from the British Government for students in the UK to remain in that program long term, beyond 2020. We want to get the possibility to study abroad, to be part of the Erasmus program. But we won’t be entitled to the same support from the European Commission. So, the British Government needs to provide the same support” says Murtagh.
What about international students?
The number of international students is probably going to rise in the Republic as Ireland is an English-speaking country which remains within the European Union. Dublin is expected to appear more and more attractive, even though Ireland would have the most expensive fees and rents for students’ accommodations in the EU. Those international students will be at high risks to be exploited. “They’ll be exploited with the high fees, they can be discriminated against when renting a room, or they may be lied to about the rooms they are going to get” explains McHugh.
The USI is also concerned about the rise of racism in Ireland. “Brexit should be a warning sign”. “We love to call ourselves and open country, but realistically we have one of the most racist way to dealing with refugees or people seeking asylum in this country through Direct Provision for example.”
Watch below our vox-pop about Brexit! Interviews of students from Belfast Queen’s University and Dublin City University.