Having avoided the “Erasmus contamination” of Brexit and currently benefitting from a huge corporation tax windfall, Ireland is in an enviable position that could provide a “once in a generation” opportunity to invest in education.
Simon Harris, minister for further and higher education, research, innovation and science, addressed the QS Higher Education Summit in Dublin.
“The focus of the previous strategy was overwhelmingly on attracting inbound students”
“The focus of the previous [international education] strategy was overwhelmingly on attracting inbound students. This strategy will not only seek to continue to grow students coming to study in Ireland, but will also balance it with an outward focus, in particular through supporting Erasmus+ student and staff exchange.”
The previous strategy for 2021-2023, along with focusing on European Union relations, also sought to deepen connections with UK institutions.
Ireland has continued to operate successfully as part of Erasmus+ despite the UK leaving the scheme when it exited the EU. Irish students have also maintained access to home-fee status in the UK, and is the only European country to have seen an increase in students going to the UK since Brexit.
“We’ve done great work in terms of Erasmus… that’s incredible to ensure that those traditions can continue,” he said.
Education in Ireland also launched a new marketing effort targeting Indian students on July 4.
The ‘Embrace the Emerald Isle: Unveiling Ireland’s Educational Excellence’ campaign is a nine-month long engagement series featuring roadshows, digital campaigns and live sessions. It is hoping to increase the number of Indian students opting to study in Ireland in the 2024/25 academic year.
“By showcasing the academic excellence of Irish higher education institutions and the incredible opportunities available to Indian students, this campaign will undoubtedly attract a significant inflow of Indian students for the 2024/25 academic season,” said Ireland’s Ambassador to India, Brendan Ward.
“Ireland has gained recognition for its educational excellence and buoyant job market across sectors like IT, Business, Finance, Big Data, Medical Technology, Engineering and Digital Marketing to name a few.”
Harris reminded delegates at the QS Summit that 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s accession to the EU and reaffirmed the need for support from European partners to realise their ambitious targets in higher education, research, innovation and science.
He also highlighted the “low-hanging fruit” that represents the mutual benefits of transnational education, and with hundreds of delegates from universities across Europe in attendance and many more online, he took the opportunity to garner support by saying, “I believe we are obligated to work together as best as we possibly can.”
Accommodation shortages and school places have continued to hamper Irish recruitment as demand is high yet capacity is limited.
The Irish government recently announced a number of options to expand university level places for healthcare and veterinary medicine in Ireland, along with fast-tracking planning applications for new student accommodation.
The tender process for new veterinary schools opened last autumn with a decision on the chosen providers expected imminently from the cabinet.
QS revealed its latest world rankings at the event, with Irish universities consistently appearing in the top one percent of institutions globally.
Harris congratulated institutions on their rankings but also reminded that “not all that is valuable can be measured” in the impact of education. He reaffirmed that the government’s “continued investment in education is not just seen as our greatest resource but has been instrumental in attracting top international talent into our universities”.
A recent survey from Eurostat revealed that Ireland now has the highest cost of living in the EU, with household expenditure 46% higher than the average.
Domestic student access is severely under pressure while demand is high internationally and there are calls to increase state funding to bridge the gap.
This tension between high fees and an accommodation crisis inhibiting domestic access was highlighted by social democrat Gary Gannon, who spoke exclusively to The PIE.
“Education for me should always be expensive, but should only be expensive to the state,” explained Gannon, the politician representing the Dublin Central constituency.
“It’s going to be about investment in education and the places in which we house people coming”
“In Ireland we have a massive surplus of corporate tax receipts at the minute that we are really going to invest into what is sustainable long term. It’s going to be about investment in education and the places in which we house people coming.”
Gannon used his keynote speech to close the QS summit to raise awareness of systemic “locking in of privilege” in the current education system in Ireland.
Only 18% of leaving school certificates taken by students from state funded equal opportunities schools (DEIS) last year, went on to tertiary education compared to 98% from fee paying schools in Ireland.
Speaking of what he hoped to see from the international strategy, Gannon stressed that access to education is not just a domestic problem.
“Being attractive to international students to me is not just about milking international students, which often seems to be the case.
“When we charge high fees and high rents, it also means we exclude those international students who would never in the world be able to afford them.
“I’d like to see an actual strategy for educational access that starts with understanding what is the best approach to bringing people from different backgrounds into university.”
A government spokesperson told The PIE, the new International Education, Research and Innovation Strategy is hoped to be published in “the coming weeks”.
“The strategy will be a high-level document setting ambitious yet achievable goals and objectives to 2025. It will provide a unified strategic framework to develop and strengthen existing and new relationships,” they said.