Education boss worried by drop in numbers of foreign students
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.