The new report from the Irish Council for International Students was carried out to provide insights into the lived experiences of international students.
“Many international students in Ireland are facing hugely challenging conditions that negatively impact their academic performance”
More than 760 international students from 75 countries participated in the research, which was conducted using an online survey in several languages, as well as two focus groups.
Other key findings were that 79% of respondents have seen their mental health suffer because of the pandemic, with many citing experiences of isolation, depression and anxiety.
“Many international students in Ireland are facing hugely challenging conditions that negatively impact their academic performance, their ability to work and live adequately, their mental health and their overall wellbeing,” said Laura Harmon, executive director of ICOS.
“Many of these problems, although not new, have been highlighted and exacerbated by Covid-19, and additional challenges have arisen as a direct result of the pandemic.”
Out of the 760 international students who participated in the survey, 58% indicated that they were students at an Irish higher education institute, 42% at an English language school.
Respondents were asked about topics including immigration, medical insurance, online learning and support, employment, wellbeing, accommodation and racism.
Some 40% of respondents said that they have either witnessed or been victims of racism in Ireland, with only 5% reporting the incident.
The 79% of respondents reporting mental health concerns cited experiences of isolation, depression and anxiety, as well as difficulties accessing adequate mental health support.
“Our report shows that restrictions have hit international students particularly hard”
Accommodation was another area of concern with 63% of ELS students and 28% of HEI students sharing a room with at least one other person. The low availability and high cost of accommodation are reported by students as significant challenges.
Despite these challenges, when asked about their student experience overall, 50% of respondents indicated a positive experience.
However, more than a quarter (26%) of respondents reported a negative experience and 24% gave a neutral response.
“While the pandemic has negatively impacted the entire student population in Ireland, our report shows that restrictions have hit international students particularly hard,” explained Harmon.
In addition to challenges brought on directly by the pandemic, the research carried out by ICOS also points to a range of broader issues facing international students in Ireland.
“We are particularly concerned about the high instance of experiences of racism, most of which go unreported,” continued Harmon.
“Poor, expensive and overcrowded accommodation; the high cost of living, which often leaves students struggling to meet their basic needs; and barriers to accessing employment are among the other serious issues identified by the students,” she said.
“The issue of racism is a poison in society… We try our best to make everybody feel at home”
David O’Grady CEO of Marketing English in Ireland told The PIE News that he was aware of the difficulties that lockdowns have caused for students.
“After six months’ preparation MEI finally launched its ‘Guide to Best Practice for Student Welfare and Mental Health 2020’ in February 2020. We had done workshop sessions with the schools on how to work with students with mental health concerns around the launch,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the launch was February 19, 2020 and a few weeks later lockdown happened,” he added.
O’Grady said that MEI participated, along with ICOS, in the Irish Government inter-departmental ELE Working Group, which was established to address student welfare issues immediately as the lockdown happened.
“The issue of racism is a poison in society. By having our international students in contexts where they are interacting with host families, school staff, colleagues in the workplaces we hope to expose Irish people to the delights of individuals from different ethnic, religious, social and educational backgrounds. We try our best to make everybody feel at home,” he added.
“As a nation who have, over the last 200 years, spread our diaspora all around planet earth”
David Russell, chairperson of the Progressive College Network acknowledged that there was a problem with racism in Ireland, but said that it was coming from a small group of people and was not representative of attitudes in general towards international students.
“I would consider Ireland to be a very welcoming place, as a nation which has, over the last 200 years, spread our diaspora all around planet earth,” he told The PIE.
“I think we have an understanding of what it means to be a visitor and to the the new person coming in… However unfortunately as with all things, there are nice people and maybe people who are not so nice.
“That’s not to explain this away and make out like it isn’t important. It is important. And it absolutely shouldn’t happen. But I do think from the point of view from the language schools, we do everything we can to welcome the students and make them feel wanted,” he added.