Written answers

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Department of Education and Skills

Brexit Issues

Photo of Thomas ByrneThomas Byrne (Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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36. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide an update on meetings and discussions he or his officials have had with counterparts in other EU states with regard to the impact of Brexit on third level fees that would be charged to Irish or other EU citizens studying in the UK or Northern Ireland and-or other barriers to access for Irish or EU students to studying in the UK or Northern Ireland. [10487/17]

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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Firstly, let me say very clearly that negotiations on the UK/EU relationship post Brexit have not yet begun. Ireland is part of the EU27 in terms of preparing for such negotiations and we will continue to respect our role in that process.

I have had meetings in recent months with the EU Commissioner for Education and other EU Ministers and officials at which such barriers and other Brexit-related issues were discussed.

Our principal concerns relate to protecting to the greatest extent possible student mobility between Ireland and Northern Ireland, the UK and within the EU and to support our strategy to increase non-EU student flows.  We are particularly concerned to facilitate the continued feasibility of the UK as an option for our further and higher education students, of whom almost 11,000 attend UK higher education institutions.

The other principal concerns in education relate to the possible impact of the UK withdrawal from EU Funding Programmes such as Erasmus+, Horizon 2020, PEACE IV and INTERREG, and the impact this could have on both funding streams for our system and on consequent resource demands on the Irish system to replace UK investment and contributions in these programme areas.  There are also risks around research collaboration and opportunities for Irish institutions to partner with UK institutions and around the continued success of cross-Border co-operation in special education needs, educational underachievement, teacher mobility and school, youth and teacher exchanges.

I and the UK Secretary of State for Education have communicated on matters of shared concern including the likely implications of Brexit for research collaboration; student access to higher education, and student fees.  We have agreed to take forward our consideration of these issues at a meeting to take place in the very near future. I had previously discussed a similar agenda with my counterparts in the Northern Ireland Executive on the margins of the North South Ministerial Council meeting in July 2016.

My Department's Secretary General attended the UK/Ireland Permanent Secretary/Secretary General Summit in London in October 2016 at which he and his UK counterpart considered the implications of Brexit for our respective education systems including possible impacts on Ireland/UK student and academic flows and third level student fees and supports.  

My officials meet with their EU counterparts regularly in Brussels and at EU events and they take every opportunity to speak to as many as possible of them, including on Ireland's particular Brexit challenges.  My Department has also held four Brexit stakeholder consultation events - one overall information event, one for the schools sector, one for the further education and training sector and one for the higher education and research sector where we heard from all interests on the issues and challenges faced by the education community, both North and South.

As part of the Government's overall preparations for Brexit, Ministers will continue to meet and engage with their EU counterparts over coming weeks to emphasise Ireland’s concerns and to ensure that they are fully reflected in the EU position once negotiations commence.  I myself hope to meet with the UK Secretary of State in March.

This activity is reinforced by extensive engagement at diplomatic and official level.  The Government is acutely aware of the potential risks and challenges for the Irish economy and will remain fully engaged on this aspect as the negotiations proceed.  An important part of our preparations for the Brexit negotiations is ensuring that our particular concerns are heard and understood across Europe, and engagement with our EU partners and with the EU institutions is therefore critical.


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