Ireland is setting its sights on regaining momentum as a top-tier study abroad destination. Its higher education system saw major expansion in the Celtic Tiger years (roughly 1995-2007) – with China becoming an important source of students – but it has been struggling with the Irish economy’s troubles in recent years, reputation damage as a result, and corresponding cuts to higher education funding.
Despite the ongoing economic crisis, the government has set up a promotional arm called Education in Ireland and is beginning to take more aggressive steps to market its higher education system to priority markets including Brazil, India and the US. It is also taking steps to implement some of the recommendations from the Hunt Report, which was released in January 2011 and maps out various reforms till 2030.
Ireland’s stated goal is to boost the number of international students by 50% over the next five years to 52,000 (and English language students from 100,000 to 125,000). Estimates claim that international students could bring in an additional €1.2 billion a year to the Irish higher education system.
The Irish government’s investment in international education comes at a crucial time when it is looking to every source possible to offset funding cuts to higher education. The higher education budget declined 24% from 2008 through 2012, with a further cumulative 5% of cuts anticipated through 2015.
Experts say the Irish higher education system has done an admirable job thus far at absorbing the cuts without sacrificing quality.
Irish Minister for Education and Skills Ruairi Quinn commented in NAFSA’s International Educator May/June 2012 article “Weathering the Storm:”
“The system at higher level has seen a reduction in core funding and, by and large, to their credit, it has absorbed an awful lot of that reduction without diminution in quality or, indeed, in quantity. But there is general recognition of a developing crisis in the funding of the third level sector.
We’re looking for symmetries and for collaboration across different institutions so that we can eliminate a lot of the duplication that’s already there. That will give us some time. I’d say about two years, but not much more.”
Quinn further explained: “I do recognise that in two years’ time, we’ll be looking at having to increase the funding for third-level in some shape, size or form. That could very well include some form of student contribution that would go directly to the college.” No doubt many are closely watching the effects of the recent tuition hikes in nearby Britain.
Added Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University and president of the Irish Universities Association: “I’d say whatever ‘fat’ was in the [Irish higher education] system has been removed. We’re right at the bone. That provides a serious challenge if cuts continue to the same degree. The trend of two diverging curves – an upward curve of student numbers and a downward curve of funding – is not sustainable.”
Especially within this context, Ireland’s recent steps toward expanded marketing of its education system abroad represent an important opportunity to further diversify and stabilise the country’s education institutions.
Some highlights of their recent worldwide efforts include:
Ireland has signed major education and research agreements with two Brazilian State agencies, CNPq and CAPES, on behalf of the Higher Education Authority and Science Foundation Ireland.
The deals will allow Ireland to access Brazil’s Science without Borders Programme and could see up to 1,500 Brazilian scholarship students come to Ireland over the next four years, with a particular focus on studies in science and technology. At present, Ireland is home to 14 institutes of technology and seven universities.
Speaking about the agreements, the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, Mr. Phil Hogan said: “This deal will make a significant contribution to the Government’s target of doubling international student numbers and could contribute up to €25 million to the Irish economy in terms of fees and living expenses.”
Editor’s note: as of 11 October 2012, officials have entered an agreement to bring 4,000 Brazilian undergrads to Ireland over the next four years.
Ireland joins a small number of countries who are participating in the Brazilian programme. Existing participants include the United States, Canada, Germany, UK, France, Italy, Australia and Belgium.
Kevin O’Brien, the Irish cricketer who wowed Indians by achieving the fastest ever century in the 2011 World Cup in Bangalore, is supporting Education in Ireland in its efforts to attract Indian students to Ireland. He is accompanying Irish colleges to education fairs, agents’ workshops, and press briefings across India, as well as one-to-one student meetings.
To date, Ireland claims only 1,000 of the 150,000 Indian students who study abroad each year, a figure Marina Donohoe, head of education at Enterprise Ireland (which manages the Education in Ireland brand) would like to see higher. She commented: “The nature of Ireland’s knowledge intensive export economy makes Ireland a perfect fit for Indian students seeking to gain internationally recognised qualifications in dynamic growth sectors including ICT and life sciences.”
Education in Ireland has launched a new Student Ambassador Programme, which is aimed at promoting Irish degrees and study abroad programmes in the US.
Student Ambassadors post articles and videos about their experiences as students in Ireland, connecting prospective American students and their families with those already studying in Ireland. The idea is that they will introduce the benefits of Irish higher education to prospective American students and their families. When Ambassadors return to the US, they will continue to work occasionally in a promotional capacity for their Irish universities.
Also on the American front, Ireland’s Trinity College Dublin has partnered with Brown University as part of the Brown Plus One programme for students interested in international study. Trinity joins the University of Edinburgh and the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the initiative. Trinity’s involvement allows it to be one of the schools at which Brown students can spend 1–2 semesters of study towards their bachelor’s degree, and then one more year for their Master of Arts.
Finally, there’s a new magazine aimed at promoting studying in Ireland. It’s called Yeah! International Student Magazine, and it’s targeted to anyone thinking of (or already) studying in Ireland. The magazine is independent but supported by Education in Ireland. With features on Irish culture, lifestyle, and entertainment choices, as well as student/education issues, Yeah! will be used as a marketing tool for agents and at international student fairs.