The centre, scheduled for completion in the autumn of 2019, is planned in partnership with Aquinas College of Grand Rapids, US. The state-of-art building will include an education hub (with a 50-seat auditorium), a library, group study rooms, video conference facilities and meeting rooms.
The centre will also include nine renovated thatched cottages to accommodate up to 40 students and staff. It is hoped the new centre, along with new and extended partnerships, will lead to a five-fold increase in student numbers.
Connemara West, a locally managed community development organisation based in Letterfrack, Galway, is leading the project. Its chairman, Kevin Heanue, said the new centre was needed due to the popularity of the Connemara study abroad offerings.
“[The centre] is needed to accommodate the growing number of US colleges who are bringing students and faculty to the village as part of Connemara West’s education-led development strategy,” he said.
It is understood that Aquinas will foot around half of the €2.5m bill, through its US interests. It is also hoped that the Irish government may assist the development as part of its rural development plan.
“The Aquinas College Ireland Study Abroad programme reflects the best of a liberal arts education”
“Extending fibre optic cables from Letterfrack to Tullycross is part of that ‘ask’ from the State,” Heanue added.
Dr Steve Barrows, executive vice president of Aquinas College, said: “our partnership between Aquinas College, Connemara West, and the Tullycross community is a concrete and wonderfully successful example of exposing our students to global opportunities and thereby promoting critical thinking.”
“The Aquinas College Ireland Study Abroad programme reflects the best of a liberal arts education with a global perspective,” he added.
The community has been promoting education tourism for several decades, with students from the US visiting the region on Ireland’s west coast for over 40 years. At least 1,000 US students have embarked on study visits to the region since 1973.
According to the latest available Open Doors data, complied by IIE, Ireland is the seventh most popular destination for mobile US students.
With a 15.9% year-on-year increase in student numbers (which equates to more than 10,000 US students in Ireland in 2015), Ireland is the only top 10 destination for US students that can boast double-digit growth in inbound students.
Along with Aquinas, which launched a renewed study abroad program in Tullycross earlier in 2017, six other colleges from across the US now base study abroad programs in the quiet Galway village.
The partnerships are based around Irish Studies minor courses at the US institutions, but have recently expanded to include Irish cultural studies courses taught by NUI Galway.