Monday 17 June 2019

Africa looks to unique culture of Irish higher education

Enterprise Ireland, under the Education in Ireland brand, promotes third-level education to overseas students. Stock image
Enterprise Ireland, under the Education in Ireland brand, promotes third-level education to overseas students. Stock image

Penny Buthelezi

The past year has been one of the most successful ever for attracting Nigerian students to Ireland.

For the 2018/19 intake, there were over 800 student visas approved from Nigeria - up from 150 a year ago. For Nigerian students - and their parents - Ireland is firmly on the map as a destination for higher learning. What is driving the surge?

Nigeria is not only the largest African economy, it is also the fastest growing, and most populous. With 196 million people, it accounts for almost half the population of West Africa and 15pc of the continent.

Incredibly, Nigeria's population has quadrupled in just 50 years. At the current birth rate, the UN estimates it will be the third most populous country in the world by 2050.

This means that Nigeria is a young country. Almost two-thirds of its population is under the age of 25. In Ireland, which has the youngest population in Europe, one third of the population is under 25.

Until recently, Nigeria was heavily dependent on oil. A sharp fall in the price of oil in 2016 encouraged diversification. Rapid development of non-oil sectors (agriculture, mining, technology, education) has created opportunities - but also highlighted a need for broader skills.

Demand for degree-level qualifications continues to grow, and total tertiary enrolment is forecast to more than double from two million (2016) to five million by 2024. However, Nigeria's educational infrastructure is struggling to keep up with the population growth.

Students and their parents are looking elsewhere - and it's our job to make sure they're looking at Ireland for a world-class standard of education in an international setting.

Enterprise Ireland, under the Education in Ireland brand, promotes third-level education to overseas students. We work with Irish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), our universities and colleges, assisting them with their own ambitions for internationalisation, creating a rich and diverse learning environment made up of young people from every corner of the world.

Using Enterprise Ireland's global network of offices and contacts, we bring Irish HEIs into contact with potential students and their parents, showcasing Ireland's tradition of academic excellence, and the country's contemporary ranking among the world's best education systems.

Each HEI we represent has unique attributes, in terms of options, courses and environment, but Ireland also has universal attributes as a "campus" - our culture, a healthy study and life balance and friendliness of our people are valued highly. The visa 'stayback' option gives graduates the opportunity to stay on and work in Ireland for a year or two, depending on the level at which they have studied.

This, coupled with the often practical nature of our third level education, the closeness to industry and future employability of graduates, is key for every international student.

The success of our education system is reflected in the unprecedented volume of applications from Nigerian students to Irish HEIs in the past 12 months for courses in business and finance, politics and law, nursing, IT/data, engineering and humanities/environment.

In most cases, students are acquiring specific skills that they need to take back home to take over, or get involved with, the family business or start their own careers.

Education in Ireland is hosting fairs in Abuja (April 25) and Lagos (April 27), with 14 Irish HEIs confirmed to take part. The commitment that Irish HEIs have for this market has been tremendous, and with the help and support from the Irish Embassy and visas team in market, we expect another strong year.

More and more young Nigerians are finding out about Ireland, learning about it, considering it, with many taking that leap to study and live in Ireland for a while.

The level of interest is a sure sign that more people are talking about Ireland. We want to keep that conversation going.

Penny Buthelezi is a market adviser with Education in Ireland, specialising in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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