Bill Corcoran in Cape Town
A half dozen third-level education institutes are participating in Ireland's trade mission to South Africa and Nigeria which began today, in a bid to improve collaboration with universities there and attract local students to their courses.
The group, which includes Trinity College Dublin, a number of institutes of technology and Griffith College, are part of a 37-strong contingent of companies participating in an Enterprise Ireland facilitated trade mission .
While Irish third-level institutes have a history of engaging in collaborative initiatives with their counter-parts in South Africa, the Nigeria leg of the mission from November 14th -16th marks a new departure in terms of the scale of their engagement there.
For the most part their decision to travel to the west African country reflects a growing interest among Irish-third level institutes in the country’s student market, which sees up to 250,000 scholars going abroad each year to study third-level courses.
Enterprise Ireland country manager for South Africa Fred Klinkenberg said that extending the trade mission to Nigeria was a mark of the organisation's determination to expand into the continent to seek new opportunities across a number of sectors, including telecommunications, finance education, pharmacology, and oil and gas extraction industries.
Irish exports to Sub-Saharan Africa were valued at €400 million in 2012, an increase of 20 per cent on the figure achieved in 2010.
The amount of business Irish companies will do on the continent is expected to increase steadily over the short to medium term, with economic growth in Sub-Saharan Africa predicted to grow by 5 per cent per year for the next decade.
“The Enterprise Ireland 2014 strategy is to continue to focus the majority of our resources on developing South Africa as our priority market in the region. However, at the same time we will further develop our hub and spoke approach and build our additional services capability in other key economic growth areas in the region, with a particular focus on Nigeria,” he said.
Minister of Trade and Development Joe Costello will head up the mission, and the main focus in South Africa will be telecommunications and the financial services sectors.
A total of six Irish companies will be participating on an Ireland stand in Africom, the continent’s largest annual telecommunications congress and exhibition.
In Nigeria, the focus will be on financial services and education.
“Because of the substantial student market that exists in Nigeria we want to use this mission to quantify the opportunity that exists. A number of Nigerian students have gone through the Irish education system and the trade opportunity is based on the fact that they did well,” said Klinkenberg.
Genevieve Judson-Jourdain, a regional officer with Trinity's office of the vice-president for global relations, and Prof Jane Ohlmeyer, vice-president for global relations and Erasmus Smith professor of modern history, will represent the institute during their trade mission activities.
Judson-Jourdain maintained that to be truly competitive and improve their research capabilities, universities had to become more globally integrated in relation to a range of different activities.
“These collaborations revolve around establishing partnerships with other universities, resource collaboration, faculty exchange programmes and the recruitment of the best and brightest students,” she said.
Various collaborations between Irish third-level institutes and their counterparts in the US and Far East have existed for some time now. However, opportunities for such engagements across Africa have taken longer to develop, due to different educational needs, explained Judson-Jourdain.
“We have a study relationship with Nigeria, and some of their students are already with us, but we are now looking to take a more proactive approach, as the UK and US universities are already very popular with them.
“Enterprise Ireland provides a framework through its trade mission that enables us to speak to potential students. They approached us [to participate in the trade mission] in this instance, but they were pushing against an open door,” she said.
While in South Africa, Trinity College will also be meeting with the University of the Western Cape and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution about the Irish government’s new Kader Asmal Fellowship Programme, as the university will play an active role in it.
The initiative – named after the founder of the Irish anti-apartheid movement, a former Trinity College professor – is part of the Irish Aid programme in South Africa. Its aim is to help address the continuing educational needs in South Africa, particularly among members of previously disadvantaged communities, through the provision of one year post-graduate programmes in Ireland to deserving candidates in a number of defined areas.
A total of 10 fellowships will be awarded annually beginning with the 2014-15 academic year, eight of which will be in business management, agriculture, food science and nutrition, and public administration. The other two fellowships are in the fields of international relations, development and economics, and human rights law, and the latter will take place at Trinity College.