Not Irish enough for free university fees

Irish emigrants who have been living outside the EU for at least three years lose their entitlement to free fees at Irish third-level colleges and universities. Why?

Ciara Kenny
Ciara Kenny The Irish Times, Ireland
Source: The Irish Times
Not Irish enough for free university fees - NewsMavens
Graduation. Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Over the past decade, more than 300,000 Irish people have emigrated in search of better opportunities overseas. In the past three years however, as the economy has crawled back out of recession, increasing numbers of those emigrants are returning to live in Ireland, often with children in tow.

One consequence of their time abroad that they may not have foreseen is the loss of their children’s entitlement to “free” third-level fees.

All EU citizens – including Irish - are entitled to “free fees” at third-level institutions in Ireland (paying just a registration fee of up to 3,000 euros per year), provided they have lived in the EU for three of the past five years.

But anyone who has lived outside the EU for longer than this must pay international fees, which can range from 10,000 to 22,000 euros per year for most courses, or up to 52,000 euros for medicine.

On St Patrick’s Day in 2014, the then Irish minister for education, Ruairi Quinn, made an announcement to much fanfare, that returning Irish emigrants would no longer have to pay extortionate fees to attend third level courses in Ireland.

But Quinn’s announcement was never enacted into law, meaning returning emigrants who have lived abroad for as little as three years can still face huge costs to go to college here.

In his Opinion article in The Irish Times this week, Colum Kenny highlights how one young Irish man who went to the US on a sports scholarship and was awarded an honours science degree there, was told on his return that he would have to pay international fees of 52,000 euros a year instead of the usual Irish fee of 15,000 euros to study medicine at University College Dublin.

It has been left up to the individual institutions to interpret the law, meaning returning emigrants applying for similar courses in different colleges and universities could end up paying wildly different fees.

As Kenny writes, the rules are confusing and unfair. And perhaps most importantly, at a time when the Irish government is claiming to be trying its best to encourage emigrants to return to Ireland, it is a very significant deterrent to Irish emigrant students and their parents when weighing up the costs of moving home.

Details from the story:

  • All EU citizens – including Irish - are entitled to “free fees” at third-level institutions in Ireland if they've lived in the EU for three of the past five years
  • International fees range from 10,000 to 22,000 euros per year for most courses, or up to 52,000 euros for medicine
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