The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said in a study published last year that despite the declining numbers in recent years, the United States remains the top destination for education seekers with highest absolute number of overseas students. The United States, together with the United Kingdom, Germany and France attracted just over half of all foreign students pursuing their studies abroad in 2004.
Asian students comprise the largest group studying abroad, making up 45 percent of international students in OECD countries, with Chinese students accounting for 15 percent of this total. Australia was found to have the highest proportion of foreign students enrolling at its universities at almost 17 percent, followed by the United Kingdom at 13.4 percent and Switzerland at 12.7 percent. The Irish rate was 6.7 percent.
Education Ireland, the Irish Government agency responsible for promoting export earnings from education, says that there were 25,319 international students in participating third level institutions in the academic year (2005/2006), representing a 10% increase from the previous year. Of these students, 15,196 (57%) were from non-EU countries. Student numbers from Europe have increased by 15% since 2005, compared to 7.5% for non-European students.
The agency says that although it's dominance is declining by an average of 1% - 2% per year, the university sector remains the most important, attracting 65% of all international students.
The for-profit private sector is next in importance, hosting 18% of international students. Growth for these colleges in 2006 came entirely from European students, with non European student numbers actually dropping. The public-operated institutes of technology are providing a strong challenge to the other sectors and now host 14% of all tertiary level international students. The "other" colleges host 3% of international students and have done so for a number of years.
Income from tuition fees provided by international students as reported by the participating colleges is €154 million for the 2005-2006 academic year. Other living expenses for students generate approximately €181 million bringing the total estimated revenue to over €335 million. Forty percent of this income comes from medical students.
While the education business is now a part of most official trade missions, some students from Developing Countries can be open to exploitation because of the large amount of money involved.
EU governments have tightened student visa rules in recent years, but there is undoubtedly still a percentage of students from Developing Countries whose primary motivation to be educated in the EU is to increase their chances of getting a permanent work visa in the European Union.
As with recruitment for overseas workers, the employment of agents and sub-agents marketing courses to locals, in Developing Countries, has also been open to abuse.
REGULATION OR LACK OF IT
We did not get a direct response from the Department of Education and Science on the regulation of the for-profit private sector but the impression is that it is limited, to say the least.
| The Michael Smurfit Business School campus, Blackrock, County Dublin. |
In December 2004, Dundalk Business School, which termed itself a college of further education, was wound up by order of the High Court in Dublin. A solicitor, in an affidavit, said he had been retained to act for 300 Indian students whose applications were processed through an Indian overseas student association, which had discharged about €450,000 in tuition fees to the school in support of visa applications which were unsuccessful.
On Monday, February 12, 2007, The Irish Independent reported that
a high-profile mission by third-level colleges to India, to attract much-needed students to Ireland, has had to be abandoned in a major diplomatic upset.
The Government is taking most of the blame because of a delay in providing legal protection for third-level students coming to Ireland.
The April trip was called off when the Indian Ambassador to Ireland Saurabh Kumar, refused to provide assurances that participating colleges would get visas in time to travel.
The controversy has its roots in the collapse of Dundalk Business School in 2004, which left dozens of Indian students out of pocket by as much as €7,500 - 438,398 Indian Rupee.
Since then, the Ambassador has been demanding a regulatory framework governing student recruitment with mechanisms for redress in cases of violations and provision for fee refunds.
Last year, a similar trip by 18 colleges was rescued at the last minute after the Government assured the ambassador his concerns would be addressed immediately.
The newspaper says that a spokesperson for Education Minister Mary Hanafin pointed out Ireland was similarly recruiting in China, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea and Thailand - none of which have raised similar concerns.
She said arrangements for the establishment of Education Ireland, on a formal basis, were at "an advanced stage."
All the colleges intending to travel were on the National Qualifications Framework of Ireland and fully validated by the Government, she added.
The newspaper say the difficulty is not with colleges accredited by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council - which offer a high level of protection for students - but private colleges that do not have such accreditation.
The Education Ireland agency says in its 2006 report, that the number of Indian students in Ireland is rising at a slow pace with an 11% increase registered this year, bringing the total to 857. Almost two thirds of Indian students are studying at postgraduate levels, split between the independent for-profit colleges (55%) and the universities (38%). There was no increase in the numbers of Indian students in the university sector in 2006.
"Given the emphasis placed upon this market, overall numbers remain low as visa and other profile problems continue to hamper growth here," the agency says.
To pay up to €10,000 per year in annual fees plus a further 60% of that amount in living costs, is a huge amount for the typical Indian student- - 935,248 Indian Rupee, each year.
In the case of the Dundalk Business School, agents and sub agents were able to recruit hundreds of Indian students in just a year as they presumably got an attractive cut from the fees to be paid.
The ability to be able to work 20 hours a week in Ireland, in accordance with student visa rules, is a positive option, in particular for those who raise loans from extended family, to fund what may be a desire to eventually get a work visa for permanent work in the European Union.
HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL, DUNDALK BUSINESS SCHOOL, LONDON BUSINESS SCHOOL?
Indian students do not need to study English in Ireland and their country is a leading global software centre.
India also has a university tradition that is similar to Ireland's.
Why would 300 Indian students enrol in a year-old Irish business college, at fees at almost the level of University College Dublin?
Looking at the international marketing of the private for-profit colleges, which are not recognised universities in Ireland, without further investigation, you could be forgiven for believing that some of them have a higher academic reputation than for example, the Michael Smurfit Business School at University College Dublin, which is ranked among the top 100 business schools in the world.
Even though they are not recognised universities in Ireland, the for-profit colleges promote their partnerships with overseas institutions that are termed universities.
Irish private colleges should be required to state explicitly that they are not recognised universities and there should be a visa rule that no graduate of a recognised university overseas should be able to enrol in such institutions.
As to the public institutes of technology, on July 21st 2005, Gardai in Waterford reported that ten Pakistani students who went missing after enrolling at the Waterford Institute of Technology had been accounted for. Earlier it had been reported that ten students from a group of 38 admitted to the college in the autumn of 2003 had failed to show up for their classes.
WIT confirmed that it was reviewing its policies following the disappearances.
A similar visa rule should apply in respect of overseas graduates of recognised universities, enrolling in institutes of technology.
The current laissez-faire system turns a blind-eye to the big potential for exploitation by commission agents and for those who may get a permanent work visa, they will find that employers do not view the graduates of all Irish educational institutions the same.