Wednesday 24 January 2018

Education boss worried by drop in numbers of foreign students

Higher Education Authority (HEA) chief executive Tom Boland
Higher Education Authority (HEA) chief executive Tom Boland

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

A HIGHER education boss has questioned whether third-level colleges are doing enough to welcome foreign students, as new figures show a fall in numbers coming to study in Ireland.

The number arriving from abroad on full-time courses has dropped in the last five years from just under 12,000 to below 10,600 – and continues to fall.

The decline, which follows a decade of growth up to 2008, flies in the face of a Government campaign selling Ireland as a world-class education destination.

Higher Education Authority (HEA) chief executive Tom Boland (inset) said "the stagnation" in full-time international student numbers "is a cause for worry".

He said there was a challenge to ensure Ireland raised its profile and remained attractive to international learners.

While Ireland is attractive as an English-speaking country and a gateway to the EU, there may be a number of reasons for a fall in students coming from abroad, including the relatively low ranking of Irish colleges on international tables.

But Mr Boland questioned whether "we are doing enough to integrate non-Irish students into all activities on third level campuses".

"It is not enough to welcome students on day one; we need to ensure they are supported right through their studies," he said.

Full-time international students are worth at least €20,000 a year to the economy, when account is taken both of their fees and living expenses.

As well as a short-term gain, there is the hope that later in their careers such students will help to open up trading opportunities or choose Ireland as a location for investment.

The HEA figures do not include thousands of students who come to Ireland every year to learn English or on one-year programmes such as Erasmus.

Recent efforts by Irish universities to attract international students include the opening of a Global Lounge at University College Dublin, while University College Cork is designating some of its accommodation as alcohol-free, partly in deference to Muslim students.

Efforts by Irish third-level colleges to build an international profile have seen the opening of a number of overseas campuses or partnerships with universities abroad.

The market for foreign, fee-paying students is very competitive, with Ireland competing with Australia, the US and the UK for those who want an English-based education.

NUI Galway had the highest number of international students on 2011/12, the last year for which figures are available, with more than 2,000 non-Irish full time registrations.

Irish Independent

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