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8% rise in overseas students at Irish universities

Ireland’s universities saw a considerable 8% rise in overseas enrolments in 2011/12, according to Education in Ireland (EII), as the country’s appeal continues to rise slowly abroad. However, growth is not being enjoyed evenly across the tertiary sector, which grew just 2%, with considerable falls at private colleges and institutes of technology.

Total tertiary enrolments rose from 29,380 to 32,120 this year

According to an EII report, total overseas enrolments rose from 29,380 to 32,120 this year, with top markets China and the US remaining stable and noticeable increases from Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.

“There continue to be issues which can restrict institutions in scaling their international effort”

However, it under-performed in most of its “priority markets” – the focus of most marketing activity – and saw declines from India, Pakistan and Nigeria.

The university sector performed well, accounting for 70% of enrolments (around 18,000), up from 66%, and generated almost 85% of tuition income – €194.5 million. This was driven in part by a leap of 35% in PhD numbers and a 6% rise in full-time degree takers.

This was marred by a 22% slide in enrolments at private colleges, which cater to 13% of all international students; Institutes of Technology also fell 1%, the downward trend apparent since 2009/10.

EII blamed increasing competition from anglophone study destinations and sharp public spending cuts.

“The challenging budgetary context means that there continue to be issues regarding capacity, resource allocation and staffing levels which can restrict institutions in scaling their international effort,” it stated. “Accordingly, the data points to uneven development in international education in Ireland.”

Ireland has been working hard to boost its IE sector, which is estimated to be worth €1 billion including HE and ELT.

It aims to build enrolments in the former by 50% and latter 25% by 2015 and has employed innovative marketing campaigns, using cricketer Kevin O’Brien to appeal to the Indian market and launching a student ambassador programme in the US.

While EII conceded these had not fully paid off, it said the market was changing – transnational education is for example is thought to be growing, now accounting for 23% of all of Irish tertiary exports (although EII conceded this could be due to previous data anomalies).

It added that it had met its financial targets and that growth would improve next year, thanks to Brazil’s Science Without Borders scholarship scheme and other initiatives. “Focused promotional and development strategies now in place the US, India, Malaysia, Brazil and some of the Gulf States will bear fruit in the 2012/13 academic year,” it said.

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