In 2010, Ireland unveiled ambitious plans to become a global leader in high-quality education (see LTM, December 2010, page 6). One objective was to gain 50 per cent more international students in higher education institutions (HEIs).
Indeed, the country’s HE sector is significant. According to a 2010/11 survey compiled by Education in Ireland, 66 per cent of overseas students were university-based, 19 per cent were at a technology institute, while the private sector, including language schools, accounted for 14 per cent. Total income generated by overseas students within the university sector tipped the €460 million (US$576 million) mark in 2011, up 7.5 per cent on 2010.
But one year on, HEI overseas student intake remained static, up just 0.5 per cent on 2010. The number of full-time degree students fell by 7.6 per cent, from 16,201 in 2009/10 to 14,960 in 2010/11. Instead, these students were looking for flexibility, the report showed, with overseas students preferring blended learning, joint degree programmes and one-year or one-semester exchange programmes.
Over the last few years, international enrolments have risen steadily at National University of Ireland Maynooth (NUIM) in County Kildare, affirms Wayne Henry. “The university is increasing its international activities in teaching and learning, research collaborations and in relation to student mobility and recruitment,” he details. With a growing team, including a number of overseas staff, this reflects, says Henry, the “growing importance of internationalising the student experience at NUIM”.
University College Cork (UCC) in County Cork has also welcomed more overseas students. A representative puts the increase down to the introduction of split degrees with partner universities overseas. They refer to a newly-developed joint degree programme with Beijing Technology and Business University in China, and a joint medical degree programme with the Allianze University College of Medical Science in Malaysia. According to the UCC website, “The college was the first university to engage in ‘split degree’ programmes with Chinese partner universities, under which students spend the first two years at the Chinese institution before transferring to UCC for the final two.”
Irish HEIs continue to attract large cohorts of US students; in 2011, they enrolled 4,467. Henry asserts that Irish tuition costs are attractive to US students, with fees often less expensive than at an out-of-state US university. And, he adds, “Many degrees on offer at NUIM can be completed in less time than similar degrees in the USA, such as one-year taught masters degrees.”
US students ranked second in the top 25 countries of origin in 2011 and first in 2010. Meanwhile, students from China accounted for 17 per cent of total international enrolments at Irish HEIs in 2011. There were an estimated 5,101 Chinese students registered, up from 3,355 previously.
For UCC, US, Chinese and Malaysian students were the most numerous nationalities. The split degree programmes for Chinese and Malaysians and the Junior Year Abroad and Study Abroad programmes, typically popular with US students, are likely factors. For NUIM, “Currently the largest populations of international students are from China, USA and Europe, with growing numbers from the Middle East and India,” relates Henry. While exchanges and study abroad programmes receive many requests, he adds, mainstream programmes do too.
Diarmuid O’Driscoll at Mary Immaculate College (MIC), Limerick, confirms a steady pattern of overseas enrolments, with the US, France, Germany and Spain as key markets. “The dollar and the pound have strengthened substantially against the euro in recent weeks, and it would be expected that this would have a positive influence on student inflow,” observes O’Driscoll. A programme of campus development is also expected to positively impact on enrolments, he adds.
The Education in Ireland report observed overseas students were more likely to enrol on a business or administrative programme in 2011, followed by humanities and the arts and medicine/health programmes. The UCC spokesperson counts Biotechnology among the most appealing degree electives with overseas students, while Irish Studies is popular with Americans. Unique subjects including Immunology and Global Health are among the course requests at NUIM, says Henry. For MIC, Geography, History, Media, Theology and Religious Studies have proven popular, advises O’Driscoll.
While the UK recently closed its post-study work route, Ireland is keen to accommodate international students wishing to gain work experience. “Extension to the third level graduate scheme enables students to stay in Ireland for an additional 12 months after their studies in order to search for work, or work without the need of a permit,” says the UCC spokesperson. And Henry comments, “Ireland is becoming an exciting alternative [for] international students... especially where the university can provide real opportunities for work experience.”
International students 2011 by region of origin
East Asia/Pacific 29%
North America 18%
South & West Asia 8%
Sub-Saharan Africa 4%
Arab States 4%
Central Asia 1%
Latin America and the
Source: Education in Ireland, 2011
NB: There are several differences in how Education in Ireland now compiles its annual survey. Unlike the 2010 report, it now excludes English language students, includes students studying at an off-shore campus and has addressed some domiciliary issues, eliminating non-nationals whose domicile was classed as Ireland, accounting for disparities in comparisons drawn.