Government launches 'strategy' to increase international student numbers in Ireland; Essential to police dodgy private education business firms
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Sep 22, 2010 - 3:15 PM

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University of Limerick

The Government today launched a new strategy aimed at increasing international student numbers in higher education by 50% and in English language schools by 25% by 2015. However, it is essential to ensure that existing low standards and questionable business practices are eliminated among some dodgy private business firms and the bigger ones should not be allowed to suggest that they are universities.

On the full implementation of the five year blueprint - Investing in Global Relationships - the international education sector will be worth €1.2 billion per year to the Irish economy by 2015. It is currently worth an estimated €900m annually.

The Government also launched a new immigration regime for international students - - reforming entry requirements but imposing safeguards to prevent abuse of the system.

The strategy was launched today by the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, Tanaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Mary Coughlan TD, and Minister for Justice and Law Reform, Mr Dermot Ahern TD.

The Taoiseach said: "Our aim is for Ireland to be regarded as a world-leading provider of international education. This strategy and new student immigration regime sets out a shared vision for how Ireland can compete to the highest international standards and recruit talented students from overseas."

The Tanaiste said: "Ireland has a tremendous opportunity to become a global leader in the provision of high-quality education to the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, and decision-makers, who will make a difference in their own countries and who will form vital networks of influence for Ireland.

"An education in Ireland should be a transformational experience that adds significant value to the career outcomes and personal development of students. We offer the highest standards of education but we must also offer a unique student experience so that we can compete internationally for the top students.”

The Minister for Justice said: "Advanced non-EEA (European Economic Area) graduates, alongside Irish and EU graduates, have the potential to become entrepreneurs, high skills employees or scientific researchers in key sectors of the economy of the future. It is therefore important that we provide an opportunity for such non-EEA graduates to progress within the immigration system after their graduation and for those students to utilise their skills to the benefit of the Irish economy."

The strategy sets out 10 'core' actions to improve Ireland’s performance, including a partnership-based approach between Government and the education sectors and a rejuvenated national education brand which is being managed by Enterprise Ireland.

The international education strategy and the new student immigration rules were developed in tandem and are mutually complementary.

The High-Level Group which developed the new strategy comprises senior representatives from the universities, institutes of technology, private higher education colleges and English language schools as well as from the relevant Government Departments and State agencies. The Tánaiste thanked the members of the Group for their contribution to the development of this new approach.

‘‘Ireland will become internationally recognised and ranked as a world leader in the delivery of high-quality international education by providing a unique experience and long-term value to students.’’

Slogans and aspirations come easy.

A report by Enterprise Ireland last May claimed international students were generating almost €430m for the Irish economy annually.

The report, International Students in Higher Education in Ireland 2009-2010, found a significant increase in the number of international students taking postgraduate programmes, especially at PhD level. The survey has found that 23% of international students in Ireland are studying at post-graduate levels. Of these, 8% - or over 2,000 students - are taking PhDs. Post-graduate students are mainly taking science subjects, although significant numbers are studying humanities, engineering, computer science and medicine courses.

In 2010, it was estimated that 25,781 international students from 159 countries are studying at higher level in 51 colleges covered by the report. Over one-third of students come from Europe while 17% come from the US - making it the most important country of origin for international students in higher education.

After the US, the most important countries of origin are China, France, Britain, Germany, Spain, Malaysia, India and Canada.

Today's report says more than 14% of Irish students are enrolled on higher education programmes outside the country, which is nearly five times the EU average. Most of these students are enrolled in Britain and Northern Ireland, followed by smaller numbers in the US, Germany, France, and Australia.

Finfacts commented in Dec 2009 in an article on job creation:

Irish education exports do not even merit a separate category in service exports' detail, while education is Australia"s third biggest export earner and earns New Zealand 7% of its export earnings.

The Irish Government has not viewed it as important and has damaged the product by allowing private business concerns from significant operations to small training course providers, to engage in misleading promotion to attract foreign students directly or via overseas commission agents.

A training course provider, operating over a shop and charging fees of €5,000, can be listed with the recognised universities, in Department of Education and Science literature.

At a minimum, private colleges should be required to state explicitly that they are not universities and smaller operators providing services at exorbitant charges to foreign students should be closed. The facility to work part-time 20 hours per week, promoted by an agent, can be the hook for an individual from a poor country to pay fees at a multiple of typical country earnings and collected from extended family, for what may not be an education.

In 2007, the Indian government refused to allow an Irish education recruitment mission into the country following the collapse in 2004 of a business called "Dundalk Business School."

Last August, I was contacted by five Pakistani students who were having difficulty in getting a refund of fees from an education business in Galway, after their visa applications were rejected. They claimed that the Department refused to contact the particular firm, on their behalf.

Also in August 2009, at the McGill Summer School, Don Thornhill, chairman of the National Competitiveness Council said: "Ireland performs relatively poorly in terms of attracting overseas students and is a net exporter of students. In 2006, foreign tertiary students comprised 6.8%  of the student population in Ireland which compared poorly to other English-speaking countries such as the UK (14.1%), Australia (17.8%) and New Zealand (15.5%). We have only one higher education institution, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, which has a significant international footprint."

 - -Michael Hennigan

The report says full-time international students account for approximately 12% of the student population in the university sector and 5% in the Institute of Technology sector. No consistent figures are available for the private higher education sector, but the Group understands that in the larger private colleges the proportion is approximately 12%.

The Report of the Interdepartmental Working Group on the Internationalisation of Irish Education Services (2004) recommended that an appropriate medium-term target would be 12-15% international students in higher education institutions.

The review group considered that an average national proportion of 15% full-time international students remains a valid medium-term national target to be reached in the period between now and 2020. This figure is in line with the position of many leading OECD countries in this area and is significantly above the OECD average of approximately 6.8%.

While Ireland is a still a major destination for English-language training, the number of English language students in Ireland has declined significantly in the past number of years from approximately 120,000 in 2007 to 96,000 in 2009. Currency fluctuations played a significant part in this decline, it is claimed.

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