10 ways government can make Ireland more attractive to international students



The government has announced its intention to recapture Ireland’s share of the international student market, worth an estimated 2.5 billion to the economy.


From 2013 until 2017, the number of non-EEA international students opting to get an education in Ireland increased 45% from just under 10,000 to slightly over 13,500. The 2018/2019 academic year saw that number jumping to 18,500, with an additional 5,000 from EU countries.

In the 2019/2020 academic year, 44,000 international students were estimated to be in Ireland.


COVID-19 has halted this upward trend. Uncertainty surrounding the virus has forced many university and college courses online, with students remaining in their own countries to pursue them. The resulting drop in income for tertiary institutions and service providers who depend on the yearly influx of foreign students has been sharp. Meanwhile, international students who remain here have registered their disappointment at being charged full fees even though the “university experience” has been severely curtailed.


Minister of Higher Education, Simon Harris, has indicated the government will take steps to strengthen Ireland’s brand as a destination for international students in the post-COVID period, but hasn’t yet announced the details of this plan. Here are 10 things we think they can do to make the country more attractive to international students:culture


1. Fee controls


International students, particularly those from non-EEA countries are subject to fees that are significantly higher than Irish nationals. While Irish students’ fees are capped at 3,000, foreign students can have fees ranging from €9,000 to  €20,000. Meanwhile, those studying medicine can find themselves with fees upwards of €54,000. Worse, most tertiary institutions have built in year-on-year increases into their fees.When airfare, rent, food, and the general cost of living are thrown into the mix, expenses quickly add up. The majority of international students are self or family funded. A cap similar to the one Irish students have on their fees could be helpful to them.


2. Scholarships


Like fee caps, scholarships go a long way to managing the cost of studying abroad for international students. An increase in the number of scholarships offered should be considered. Currently, the government offers around 60 fully funded scholarships for all levels of study to internationals. Even combined with those sponsored privately by universities and corporations, a large portion of foreign students are on their own when funding their education. Recent announcements like the €1.5 million in scholarships to Indian students may be the way to go in the future.


3. Streamline the administrative process


Getting into university can itself be a gruelling experience, but the application process is twice as hard and time consuming when you are an international student. Government and tertiary institutions can work together to make this process less frustrating and bureaucratic.



4. Better international student services/support


The difficulties international students face don’t end with financing courses and the visa application process. It’s one thing if you have family or friends that can offer you a place to stay during the course of your studies, but most foreign students don’t. If you’re not so fortunate, finding a place to live presents a challenge of its own. This is one area where the government, collaborating with tertiary institutions, can augment quality of life for those internationals who chose to study here. 



5. Provide incentives to international graduates


After graduating, international students usually find it difficult to secure work permits or internships. A scheme that allows a quota of automatically granted work permits to the best and brightest students who wish to apply could provide several benefits. The Irish Times reports Minister Harris saying that post-pandemic Ireland, “will need a new international strategy to help us grow our education, science and research sectors.” A cadre of top international students working in these fields will go a long way to meeting that goal. A work permit quota would also go a long way to making Ireland an attractive destination for international students.

Home - Global Relations - Trinity College Dublin
Trinity College in Dublin is one of the more popular universities with international students

6. Cutting edge course offerings

Students leave their home countries when their desired course of study is not available locally or is not as highly ranked as those found elsewhere. Here, the government  and tertiary institutions have an opportunity to promote the country’s universities as offering best-in-class degrees. With Ireland hosting some of the world’s largest corporations, every opportunity should be taken to collaborate with them in formulating courses.

7. Shorter courses


Having said that, reducing the time it takes to be awarded a qualification should also be considered. We have already explored how expensive pursuing an education is for foreign nationals. A reduction in the time spent doing the degree will reduce costs. 


Moreover, it’s not unprecedented. Google is pioneering a series of cheaper, short certificate programmes that it thinks will replace four year tech degrees eventually. Less time intensive, lower cost options for internationals is something a prospective student would take into account when choosing a country in which to study.


8. Marketing


Japan has appeared on several top international student destination lists over the last few years. This wasn’t always the case. The Japanese government and universities have invested heavily in promoting the country abroad and this has paid dividends. Minister Harris has noted that evidence suggests that Ireland is becoming increasingly popular with international students. Post COVID 19, the government may want to do some research on why this is and base an extensive marketing campaign on the result.


9. Preservation of “student life”


One of the key reasons anyone leaves their home to do a degree in another country is to have the “student life” experience. Whether it’s experiencing local culture, learning a new language, taking in the sights, or making lifelong friends, internationals return to their countries of origin with a host of memories. One of the best ways to ensure that more foreign students come is to make those memories positive ones.

Undergraduate Student Fees | National College of Ireland
New friends and experiences are why international students are attracted to study abroad

10. Getting the local population on board


A recent survey shows that 76% of its respondents had “extremely positive” experiences while studying in Ireland. Obviously, international students will avoid countries that are hostile to their presence. The public’s cooperation in creating a welcoming environment is key. Government may want to consider that it’s not just international students that need marketing, but the general public too. They should be brought in as full partners in the process.


Those are our suggestions for making Ireland more attractive to international students. What are some of yours?

Natalie Briggs
Natalie Briggs

Natalie Briggs comes to Ireland via Babylon, from the Caribbean. She's a journalist with a 20 year background in print and broadcast media.

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