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11th Oct 2023

Foreign enrolment in Irish HE reaches a new high

Short on time? Here are the highlights:
  • There were 35,140 international students enrolled in Irish universities in 2022/23
  • This represents year-over-year growth of 11%, and means that total foreign enrolment has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels

The number of international students enrolled in higher education in Ireland grew again this year. The total foreign enrolment for 2022/23 represents a new high-water mark but it notably surpasses the pre-COVID benchmark as well.

Total foreign enrolment in Irish universities reached 35,140 for the 2022/23 academic year, for year-over-year growth of just under 11%.

This compares to just under 30,000 in 2019/20, the last year before the onset of COVID-19. And it now means that roughly one in every seven students in Irish higher education comes from outside of Ireland. Ireland's Higher Education Authority (HEA) reports that international students accounted for 14% of total higher education enrolment in 2022/23, up from 12% the year before.

"The data is showing us that following an uncertain period during the pandemic the system is starting to show signs of returning to pre pandemic levels. International students are returning to our shores," said HEA CEO Dr Alan Wall.

Where are they coming from?

A rather distinctive feature of Ireland's foreign student body is that the number one sending market is the United States. American students accounted for 14.5% of international enrolments in Irish universities last year (about 5,095 students). Other notable senders include India (13.5%; 4,743) and China (11.3%; 3,970). Other than Canada (5.5%), the country's foreign enrolment is very widely distributed otherwise, with very few other sending markets contributing more than 1% of the total (Malaysia, 2.5%, Brazil, 1.1%, being notable exceptions).

Just under half (45%) of foreign students in Ireland are enrolled in post-graduate studies with the balance in undergraduate programmes.

The Irish appeal

As we reported earlier this year, Ireland is now competing more actively for non-EU students with the UK, especially in light of the latter's still-new Graduate Route which was introduced in 2021 and offers post-study work rights of two-three years for degree graduates. Since the launch of the Graduate Route, non-EU enrolments in the UK have skyrocketed, and the UK has gained market share of international students relative to other major destinations as a result.

Aside from the quality of its HE institutions, however, Ireland also has a distinct advantage with respect to cost. Undergraduate tuition fees for non-EU students range from €9,850–€19,500 for most programmes, for an average of €14,675.

In the UK, the undergraduate range for international students is £11,400–£38,000 (average of £22,200 per year, for a Euro currency equivalent of €24,780). Since 2021, those fees also apply to EU students in British universities.

That last point looms large as, in contrast to the post-Brexit policy in the UK, most undergraduate EU/EEA students enrolled in publicly funded third-level courses in Ireland still do not have to pay tuition fees.

For additional background, please see:

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