Government to seek revival of €2.5bn international student sector

Plan for third level forms part of three-year strategy being published by Minister

Minister for Education Simon Harris: “In the post-pandemic Ireland, we will need a new international strategy to help us grow our education, science and research sectors.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Education Simon Harris: “In the post-pandemic Ireland, we will need a new international strategy to help us grow our education, science and research sectors.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris is to launch a major drive to help recover the €2.5 billion income for third-level colleges from the international student sector which has all but collapsed in the past year due to Covid-19.

The plan to regain Ireland’s status in the sector forms part of a three-year strategy being published by his Department today.

In 2019, 44,000 international students studied in Ireland, either as undergraduates or postgraduates, providing substantial financial injections to universities and colleges.

Internal reviews suggested that gross income from international students, from fees and spending in the economy, amounted to almost €2.5 billion.

“In the post-pandemic Ireland, we will need a new international strategy to help us grow our education, science and research sectors,” said Mr Harris.

“Obviously, this is a conversation beyond Covid but it is one we need to start preparing for.”

He said meanwhile that Brexit may provide a boon for Irish third-level institutions with students who might have gone to the UK in the past now opting for universities and colleges here.

Increase in interest

Mr Harris said there is evidence emerging to show an increase in interest in Irish third-level education from both within the European Union and from other countries.

There had been an increase he said of 2,600 in non-Irish, non-UK applicants. It is believed these applicants are those who in the past would have applied to UK universities, but are now opting for CAO.

The increase in UK (including Northern Irish) applicants is about 300. There is also an increase of 1,500 in mature student applications.

“With the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, Ireland will be the only major English-speaking country in the EU,” said Mr Harris.

Meanwhile hundreds of new “white collar” apprenticeships will be created by Government departments and local authorities under a new drive to increase the number of school-leavers choosing alternatives to third level under the strategy.

The move aims to change the “second best” culture around apprenticeships and further education by boosting its status among parents and school-leavers.

State bodies will be encouraged to start new apprenticeships in areas such as accounting, while there will be financial incentives for private industry to take on apprentices and trainees.

The blueprint aims to increase the number of school-leavers and others signing up to apprenticeships from 6,500 to 10,000 by 2025.

A new CAO portal which will allow school-leavers choose further education and apprenticeship at the same time as third-level courses is aimed at boosting the visibility of the sector.

Another aim involves building a “fully integrated” further-education and higher-education system which will allow students to transfer seamlessly from one to the other.

This is likely to involve a “common credit system” which would allow students gain credits for courses in further education which would be recognised to gain entry to third level.