LONDONDERRY students who want to study in the Irish Republic will from September 2013 have to pay an annual college registration charge of £1,810 for the privilege.
Universities Minister Dr Stephen Farry has announced his Department will no longer be picking up the tab for local students headng south to third level institutions such as Trinity College, University of Dublin, or the National University of Ireland (NUI).
The payment of the student registration fees by the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) became standard practice here after the former Irish Education Minister Niamh Bhreathnach abolished tuition fees in the Republic of Ireland in 1996.
Now Dr Farry has defended the move to stop the state payments and make students from Londonderry and elsewhere pay for their education themselves.
The withdrawal will come as a financial blow for many although Londonderry’s tradition of sending students southwards is likely to continue regardless.
Londonderry’s links with third level institutions in the south go back to the incorporation of Magee College as part of the Royal University of Ireland under Disraeli’s University Education (Ireland) Act of 1879.
And when The Queen’s University and NUI took on the functions of the Royal University when it was dissolved in 1909, Magee students eschewed Belfast and completed their third and fourth years of university at Trinity.
Famous Trinity College alumni from the city include George Farquhar, Jennifer Johnston and the current Bishop Ken Good.
But Dr Farry, announcing the deathknell of free fees for local students heading south, claimed an increase in loans and maintenance grants would offset the extra charge: “The changes being introduced for Northern Ireland students entering higher education in the Republic of Ireland from 2013/14 mean they will be entitled to a loan to cover the student contribution charge as well as an enhanced maintenance support package.
“The maximum maintenance grant will increase by more than 70 per cent from £2,000 to £3,475.
“The thresholds for entitlement to maintenance grant will also increase. The lower threshold at which there is entitlement to full grant will increase from £11,805 to £19,203, while the upper threshold at which entitlement to partial grant ends will increase from £23,605 to £41,065.
“Consequently, in 2013/14, a new entrant from a household with an income of £20,000 would be entitled to a maintenance grant of £3,300 compared with £675 under the current system.
“The changes will align the levels of support and the thresholds with those that apply for Northern Ireland students throughout the United Kingdom.
“They are consistent with recommendations in the independent student finance review by Joanne Stuart and the report on undergraduate mobility by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation and the Confederation of British Industry.
“The student contribution charge in the Republic of Ireland has increased significantly in recent years. In 2006, when variable tuition fees of £3,000 were introduced here, the student contribution charge
was 800 euro - around £650.
“In September 2012, this charge will have almost tripled to 2,250 euro and is expected to increase in each of the next three years.
“It is inconsistent to continue to provide a non-repayable grant to cover this charge when our students at home and in Great Britain are expected to cover the cost of their tuition fees, with the majority applying for student loans for this purpose.
“Overall, the new arrangements will provide a more level playing field in terms of the student finance package for local students regardless of where they choose to study in Northern Ireland, Great Britain or Republic of Ireland (ROI).”