Ireland eyes STEM as key to its future

Ireland is looking ahead to its future, and it sees a country of skilled graduates in the fields of STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths). In order to drive the country out of the economic crisis and into prosperity, Ireland aims to become known for the quality of its STEM education and a place where talented STEM professionals from around the globe can go to not only study, but also find work. If the country achieves its goals, the future will be bright indeed.

Starting at the beginning

Improvements are happening at all levels, even with the youngest students. Ireland is going to invest its way out of the economic crisis, starting with spending on schools.

The Irish Minister for Education & Skills Ruairí Quinn recently announced a €100 million investment in new school building projects. And within these new school buildings, students will have high-speed broadband powering their Internet use which will allow them access to “new and innovative educational tools.” The Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte was quoted in SiliconRepublic as saying:

“This is an important investment in Ireland’s competitiveness. From now on, these schools will mirror the workplaces of tomorrow. These students will therefore be much better prepared for the digital economy when they seek work.”

This theme of preparing students for the workplace of tomorrow is threaded throughout the education reforms being made.

On 30 May this year, Minister Quinn announced a major reorganisation of the country’s higher education system, “marking a new era for students and other stakeholders of the system.” The changes will mean the consolidation of a number of Institutes of Technology and the creation of technological universities, as well as forming regional clusters to combine strengths and create efficiencies.

The Internet capital of Europe

Clearly Ireland sees technology education as the way forward. In April it was announced that “a total of 2,000 additional ICT graduate-level professionals will be provided in the coming year through the education system and the employment permits system.”

The additional 700 employment permits will mean that foreign professionals with the appropriate ICT qualifications will look to Ireland as an attractive destination. Ireland is hoping these reforms will open up the country to internationally mobile professionals. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton said:

“International research has shown that every high-tech job created leads to an additional 4-5 jobs elsewhere in the economy.

“Fifty percent of companies in Silicon Valley are started by non-US citizens. These changes are a win-win for Ireland, and will ensure that we can create a truly world-class ICT sector in Ireland, which will provide enormous benefits for the economy and large numbers of badly-needed jobs for Irish workers. I am determined that, through implementation of a range of ambitious reforms, we will deliver on our aim of making Ireland the Internet capital of Europe.”

STEM surge

Students around the world are recognising STEM subjects as a path to employment and greater economic prosperity, and Irish students are no exception. (For more on the rising interest in STEM subjects, see our article “Demand for STEM programming continues to increase, countries race to meet it.”)

A recent study by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) shows a 51% increase in the demand for technology courses at Irish higher ed institutions over the past five years. The Irish Times quotes the HEA Chairman John Hennessy as saying:

“Science and technology are providing – and will provide – major opportunities for Ireland. We need to ensure that we continue to grow the number of world class graduates who can work for tech and science-based companies, but who will also set up companies of their own, as well as contribute to the wider society.”

Bringing education in line with employment needs

And ICT isn’t the only field where reforms are taking place.

Minister Quinn has been vocal about his aim to get Ireland’s workforce in line with economic demand across all industries, and he feels any reforms should be aligned with providing students with the skills they will need to find work in the future.

“We have to look at what works best getting young people into jobs… We need to know what the market wants instead of predicting it… Many students think the mere fact of going to college is good enough for the labour markets. Where do they get the skills if not in universities?”

Apprenticeships are a key component of the plan to boost the economy and bring the education system in line with economic needs. An independent Review Group is to be appointed, and they will be responsible for looking at apprenticeship training in Ireland and offering suggestions for reform based on international best practice.

Ireland targets key markets

Reforms can’t take place in a bubble, and Ireland is certainly looking overseas as it makes these changes. Just as they recognise foreign professionals with ICT qualifications will add exponentially to the country, Ireland’s ministers realise international students bring talent and resources with them when they arrive on its shores to study.

And at a time of austerity and budget cuts, the value of international students cannot be underestimated.

International education is now worth €1 billion to the Irish economy, with foreign students in higher education contributing around €700 million and English language students around €300 million.

Irish education providers are carving out a niche for themselves as a preferred destination for international students to study STEM subjects, and in the process benefitting from additional fees those students pay and a more highly visible global profile.

Last year, ICEF Monitor reported on Ireland’s desire to become a top-tier education destination with the formation of the Education in Ireland promotional arm (see “Ireland flexes its promotional muscles to attract foreign students“). Education in Ireland identified key markets for student recruitment (Brazil, India, the US, China) and has actively promoted the country in those markets, determined to reach its goal of increasing the number of international students by 50% over the next five years.

In March of this year, Minister Quinn travelled to China on an official visit to highlight the quality of Ireland’s education and encourage further cooperation on education matters between the two countries. At present, approximately 5,000 Chinese students are studying in Ireland, and the minister is keen to see more Chinese students choosing Irish institutions. He said:

“China is an important and growing partner in trade, education, food and agribusiness, investment and tourism. There are already strong educational and cultural ties between our two countries, with 125 education partnerships already established and vibrant immigrant communities in each country.”

Enterprise Ireland and its sister organisation Education in Ireland are doing what they can to ensure Ireland is recognised the world over, particularly as a STEM destination of choice.

Recent education missions to Vietnam and Malaysia have promoted Ireland as a top study destination and witnessed a number of MOUs between Irish institutions and partners in both countries. A trade mission to Poland and the Czech Republic resulted in numerous new contracts and alliances for Irish businesses. Both missions are moving the country forward.

Financial aid to lure foreign students

One way of encouraging talented international students to consider Ireland is to offer scholarships. In April this year, Minister Quinn launched an International Scholarship scheme to boost student recruitment from key markets and to strengthen ties to those countries (China, India, Brazil, and the US). He was quoted as saying,

“This new scholarship scheme is a key part of our efforts to promote Ireland as a centre for international study. International students … are a priority area in the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs 2013.”

On the flip side, one private institution is offering domestic Irish students a tuition fee waiver if they host an international student in their (or a relative’s) home. Griffith College has rolled out an innovative scheme which encourages both domestic and international students to study there. Domestic students get the fee waiver and international students get the deep cultural experience of living with an Irish family. Diarmuid Hegarty, president of Griffith College said:

“The new scheme will provide more opportunities for Irish students to attend the college while offering international students a unique living experience during their time in Ireland.”

Please see our previous, in-depth article for more information on foreign student arrivals across Ireland’s various education sectors, as well as recent collaborations designed to offset austerity measures and reforms.



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