Irish students at Oxford doubled over last decade

The number of students from the Republic of Ireland at Oxford has almost doubled over the past decade, Cherwell has found.

The Sunday Times reported that the total number of Irish students at Oxford and Cambridge had increased twofold between 2001 and 2011, from 213 to 448.

In Oxford specifically, the number of those domiciled in the Republic has risen from a total of 67 in 2001 to 135 in 2012.

The main driver has been an increase in postgraduate enrolments. While there are 31 undergraduates in 2012 compared to 27 in 2002, numbers undertaking graduate study have jumped from 40 to 103 in the same period.

First year St Catz linguist Niamh Furey, an Irish student from Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland, suggested, “Improved crossborder relations may have exposed more Irish students to the UCAS system, which is commonplace in the North. But I would say that Ireland’s youth has adapted to the country’s economic state: for me, Oxford’s opportunities and better funding relative to the Dublin universities were a deciding factor.”

Other Irish students in Oxford expressed varying degrees of surprise. Jennifer Ní HÉigeartaigh, a Dubliner and third year PPEist at St John’s, described the figure of 31 undergraduates as “shocking”.

Second year Somerville PPEist Zoe Fannon, from Cork, said, “Given that Ireland is so close to the UK, has a strong historical connection with it, and is an English-speaking country, 31 students of 54,344 sitting the 2011 Irish schoolleaving exam is not very many.”

Free higher education, with a small registration cost, was the case in Ireland until 2011. It was replaced by a student contribution – in effect a fee – which stood at €2,250 (£1,810) in 2012/3.

Ní HÉigeartaigh suggests the new system “is probably decreasing the gap in upfront costs and making students more likely to consider [the UK] than they were when Irish universities were free.”

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Nieouamh Burns, a first year philosophy and German student at New College, said, “I would have expected the increase in fees [in the UK] to put a lot of people off – doing an undergrad at Oxford is much more expensive than at TCD [Trinity College Dublin]. In my Dublin state school we rarely spoke about coming to study in the UK. The brightest students in my school didn’t even consider coming to Oxford; I was the only applicant.”

Fannon concurred, explaining, “It just doesn’t occur to a lot of people that they could go to the UK, let alone Oxbridge. I don’t remember seeing much recruitment by UK universities in Cork at least.”

Ed Nickell, president of CraicSoc, a society for Irish and Northern Irish Oxford students, also noted, “Personal experience has shown that the majority of Irish and Northern Irish students come from a small number of top schools, especially from grammar schools in the North. We need to think not just in terms of getting Irish students, but students from a wider variety of educational backgrounds.”