Cross border students:
: Small step or leap of faith? The perceptions and experiences of third-level cross-border students from Northern Ireland studying in a border Institute of Technology in Ireland

  • Siobhan Duffy

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education


Though student mobility in the European Union is currently facilitated under EU and national law and policy, few students from Northern Ireland take the opportunity to engage in such mobility to third-level colleges in the Republic of Ireland. The reasons for this reluctance have not been researched in detail. This thesis adopts a phenomenological approach to explore the experiences of a number of cross-border third-level students from Northern Ireland, to ascertain whether their perceptions and lived experiences of crossing the border explain the low levels of student mobility from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. Juxtaposing the theory of mobilities with that of borders, the thesis considers whether the border in Ireland operates as a bridge or a barrier to educational mobility.

The findings from the interviews and focus groups suggest that student mobility from Northern Ireland to third-level border colleges in the Republic of Ireland constitutes a distinct geography of mobility which does not depend on privilege. Instead, this geography of mobility is determined by students’ perceptions of identity and integration. The border presents simultaneously as both a barrier and a bridge. Though the border is currently barely perceptible, it nonetheless demarcates difference on either side.

This research takes place at a critical time, immediately prior to the centenary of partition in Ireland and between the decision by the UK to leave the EU and its ultimate departure. In examining this distinctive geography of mobility, the study makes an important contribution to existing literature on student cross-border mobility at a meaningful moment in the history of the border in Ireland. As the border assumes a new stature and significance, this study is a reminder of how easily further physical and psychological barriers could block the bridge to educational opportunity in Ireland.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJoanne Hughes (Supervisor) & Cathal McManus (Supervisor)


  • cross-border students
  • phenomenology
  • education
  • student mobility

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