According to the latest statistics from the Higher Education Authority (HEA) in Ireland, there were 10,571 full-time international student enrolments in the 2011/12 academic year an eight per cent drop compared with 2010/11 figures. The USA (2,255), China (1,412), the UK (1,162) and Malaysia (791) sent the highest number of students to an HEA-funded institution in 2011/12, while there was a significant decline in full-time enrolment numbers from EU states (-19.8 per cent), says the report.
In keeping with HEA’s observations, Brian Hussey at the National University of Ireland (NUI) in Galway, notes, “Students from the USA are the largest single group of international students at NUI Galway, accounting for about 40 per cent of the entire international student body.” He adds, “Ireland has deep cultural and economic ties with the USA and many of our US students are of Irish heritage.”
Olivia Waters at Trinity College Dublin relates that US students make up the single biggest international cohort of students on campus, and that the institution’s reputation within the US market has certainly helped. The sheer size of the US market is also relative, she attests.
Excluding Irish domiciled students, Asia accounts for the single largest world region represented (32.4 per cent), states the HEA report. Hussey confirms that China and India are “traditionally important” source countries for NUI; however there has been increased interest from the Saudi Arabian market in recent years. Enrolments from Brazilian students have also increased recently, adds Hussey.
Scholarships provided by members of the Gulf States are helping to drive tertiary admissions on a global scale, attests Lisa Jewel at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT). “This [initiative] is aimed at building domestic human capital to facilitate the diversification of the economic base,” she says. Dublin’s position as a multinational corporation hub, particularly for the ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and pharmaceutical sectors, attracts a lot of international attention, adds Jewell, especially from China and India.
Approximately 17 per cent of the current student population at DIT is non-Irish/non-UK, up from 15 per cent previously. “International student numbers have grown steadily for the last four years, and based on applications received to date this year, this trend will continue,” says Robert Flood from DIT’s International Office.
The HEA report also analysed the most popular fields of study for both new international student entrants and all full-time enrolees. Humanities & Arts, Social Sciences, Business and Law and Health & Welfare were the three most popular disciplines for non-Irish domiciles. When all full-time enrolees were factored in, Health & Welfare was the most popular programme type.
According to Hussey, the popularity of programmes varies from market-to-market. For example, North American students typically favour the arts, business or social sciences, while Asian students’ interests are geared towards science and engineering disciplines. Jewell at DIT concurs, adding that Chinese students are more focussed on business and computing; Indian students fixate on engineering and pharmaceutical electives, while those from the Gulf States [Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates] have a keen interest in engineering, but this is slowly evolving to include tourism and creative arts subjects, she says.
Waters lists an array of subject areas that interest international students, from humanities subjects such as History and English, combination programmes such as Business, Economic and Social Studies (BESS) or Philosophy Political Science, Economics and Sociology (PPES) and more niche disciplines such as Immunology and Nanotechnology. “The tuition fees in Ireland are very competitive in comparison to those in other countries, and Trinity College Dublin is a research hub that has links to many countries abroad,” she adds.
Investing time in social media marketing has started to pay dividends, and tertiary providers in Ireland have embraced this medium. “We have seen a significant growth in the use of social media as a vital marketing tool, and we now concurrently run a number of social media channels and marketing campaigns through these,” says Jewell. Hussey adds that Facebook and Twitter are key to engaging prospective international students, while Waters relates the college has been building partnerships with universities abroad and utilising membership of bodies such as Irish Universities Association and Education in Ireland.
The government’s ‘stay back’ visa enables international students to stay and work in the country following graduation, and this is valued by those looking to gain work experience in their main field of interest. “This [visa] allows graduates to work in Ireland for 12 months after graduation, which is very appealing to international students as there is a large number of multinationals who have their headquarters in Ireland,” notes Waters. Hussey adds that visa regulations were amended recently to allow students from outside of the EU to take advantage of this visa route. As Jewell observes, government policy is critical to the success of the sector.
|Non-Irish domiciled students by region of origin 2011/12 for all HEA-funded institutions
North America 28.7%
Europe (non-EU) 1.7%
South America 0.5%
Source: Higher Education Authority
NB: This year, we have used higher education statistics compiled by the Higher Education Authority in Ireland (which collects one day per year as a census), as international student data is no longer being collected by Education in Ireland (which was collected over the full year). Overseas statistics cited in the August 2012 issue of STM were from the latter source so there are some differences in comparable years’ data. For example, the latter source included all recognised private colleges and reported on all types of offshore students and on all exchange and summer students.