Ruairi Quinn, the education minister, has reversed rules that meant students from non-EU countries who became Irish citizens while in third-level education still had to pay full tuition fees. This could save some students already in college more than €10,000 a year as it puts them on a level playing field with other Irish and EU citizens.
“It recognises the long connections many of them have with Ireland, as well as the positive contribution they can make to our shared future,” said Mr Quinn.
Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) said the move, approved by Cabinet this week, is a step in the right direction and will mean savings for many students.
Tatiana Bezborodova, who came here from Russia when she was seven, became a citizen over a year ago. Her family still had to pay €7,400 tuition fees again last year for her medicinal chemistry degree at Trinity College Dublin but should not have to do so for her fourth and final year.
“Now I will be finally treated the same as other Irish citizens, I feel like a huge load has been lifted off my shoulders. This change will make my final year more possible and will help hundreds of others like me,” she said.
However, MRCI’s migrant education access campaign co-ordinator Helen Lowry, said hundreds of others waiting on citizenship still face barriers. The group wants long-term residency in Ireland to make other children of non-EU migrant workers eligible for free tuition and student grants.
Nally Silva, originally from Brazil and educated in Limerick after joining her parents 12 years ago, is in the process of applying for citizenship ahead of the third year of a midwifery degree at University College Cork.
“My parents pay huge fees and I don’t qualify for any grants, today’s announcement doesn’t change this. There are many others like me who were born outside Ireland but have gone through primary and secondary school here and then face huge barriers to third level,” she said.
Mr Quinn has also asked for a report from the Higher Education Authority on fees charged by different colleges, with a view to a standard policy on the amounts charged to students who came here as children from non-EU countries and who have attended school here.
He said such students should not be charged the non-EU fees required by some colleges, which should only be charged to international students coming here on student visas.