Ireland seeks to boost its position as a Chinese education destination
Number of Chinese students coming to Ireland was up 34% last year
Chinese students: there are 2,700 Chinese students studying in Ireland. Photograph: Richard Stonehouse/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan was in Beijing last week to promote Ireland’s educational establishments in a country that places an extremely high value on education and training.
Although the number of Chinese students coming to Ireland rose strongly last year – up 34 per cent after several stagnant years, Ireland trails market leaders such as the US, Australia, Britain and Canada in attracting Chinese students.
There are 2,700 Chinese students studying here and 2,400 in Irish institutions there. There are also 2,400 English-language students in Ireland. To compare, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign alone has nearly 5,000 students.
In 2013/14, there were 274,000 students from China in colleges in the United States, with Chinese students accounting for one-third of all international students in the States. That number has risen fivefold since 2000 and last year’s figure was up 17 per cent on the previous year.
“A big attraction is that you can intern in one of the big global multinationals, or indeed indigenous Irish companies, and you get a working visa for a year after you finish. That’s an attraction because Chinese students can get their leg on the ladder in terms of your career,” said O’Sullivan.
Another major selling point for Irish education in China is that all of Ireland’s universities are ranked in the top 5 per cent worldwide.
Does Ireland have the infrastructure to cope with a major influx of Chinese students?
“It’s a problem we’d love to have. We are working on a higher education strategy and some of the issues we are looking at in that include scaling up and making sure we have capacity,” said O’Sullivan.
One of the things that the Minister was keen on was ensuring the institutions didn’t just do their own thing, setting up individual representations, rather than selling Irish education as a whole.
This is somewhere Australia has scored real success – bring them in, sort them out later seems to be the motto.
And the mission was also about finding out practical matters about why people choose, say, Canada over Ireland.
The visit yielded 17 memorandums of understanding signed, including between the China Service Centre for Scholarly Exchange and Dublin Institute of Technology, the Communications University of China and DCU, and two agreements between Beijing Foreign Studies University and both Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin.
Network of programmesPaul Kavanagh
“The Government’s representatives in China are strongly supportive of these efforts but the nations that are succeeding are those that adequately resource their efforts in China.”
Among the innovations the Minister was promoting was the Claddagh programme, a national level scholarship programme designed exclusively for Chinese students.
The programme includes nearly 200 scholarships from 15 different Irish education institutions at every level, across more than 100 different fields of study.
There have also been efforts to boost the alumni network and there are now 1,700 members in the Ireland China Alumni Network.
The relationship is growing more sophisticated, with more postgraduate students coming to Ireland, and the days where some people blagged their way into Ireland as students on English-language learning visas, then disappeared, are gone.
“Some schools have closed but we’re satisfied that we need the quality control because the reputation of the country depends on it, and the vast majority of schools want to have a concrete, regulated and monitored system,” said O’Sullivan.
During her visit she met various high-level Chinese dignitaries including vice minister of education Du Zhanyuan and Xu Lin, director general of the Hanban, the state organisation that coordinates the Confucius Institutes.
A key part of the mission was the China Education Expo, which next year will feature Ireland as the country of honour.
Some 17 education institutions, which is more than three times the number in 2013, took part in the event.