Universities relying on fees from foreign students to fill funding gap
THE country's universities are increasingly turning to foreign students to bolster their income.
Ireland is attracting a growing number of international students – and the universities are getting the major share.
Around 9,500 full-time international students in universities last year contributed about €105m in fees, helping to plug the gap left by government funding cuts.
However, that is only a fraction of the total value of this lucrative market, which grew to 32,000 students last year.
International students attending third-level colleges and English language schools are now estimated to be worth €1bn a year to the economy.
As well as fees, the students and their visiting families spend hundreds of millions of euro more in the economy.
International students are those from outside the EU, who are liable to pay full fees and for whom Ireland may be attractive as an English-speaking country in the EU.
The Government wants to double the number of overseas students by 2015 and has targeted Malaysia, India, China, Saudi Arabia, the US and Brazil.
Marketing efforts in India include the recruitment of Ireland international cricketer Kevin O'Brien as an ambassador for the campaign.
Trinity College Dublin was handed a perfect showcase opportunity with the Bollywood blockbuster 'Ek Tha Tiger', filmed in part on the Dublin campus and recently released in 3,000 cinemas in India.
The marketing drive is led by Education in Ireland, a division of Enterprise Ireland and the umbrella brand Irish higher education and English language schools.
International student numbers in third-level colleges grew by 2pc to 32,000 in the academic year 2011/12, according to figures from Education in Ireland.
However, that modest overall increase masks a much bigger 8pc growth within the university sector, which accounted for 70pc of the 32,000 students.
As well as those who sign up for a full-time degree, there are other categories, such as students who attend for a semester.
In contrast, the Institutes of Technology saw a 1pc decline in international student numbers last year, while private colleges were down 22pc.
Of the €1bn a year revenue, about €700m comes from those attending third-level colleges, broken down as €230m in direct fee income, €345m in living expenses and €120m spent by visiting families. The figure is higher than previously thought and emerged in research by Dublin Institute of Technology.
Ireland is also performing ahead of most other countries in relation to the growth of international PhD students, whose numbers have grown by 35pc.