Surge in number of international students attending third level

Pace of growth significantly outstrips number of Irish students

International student numbers grew by 26 per cent in the past three years, climbing to 14,412 this year. Photograph: iStock

International student numbers grew by 26 per cent in the past three years, climbing to 14,412 this year. Photograph: iStock

 

The growth in the proportion of international students attending Irish third-level colleges is significantly outpacing that of Irish students, new figures show.

International student numbers grew by 26 per cent in the past three years, climbing to 14,412 this year.

Irish student numbers grew by 5 per cent over the same period, or some 122,257 in 2019.

The growth in international student numbers follows a major push by third-level colleges over recent years to attract more students from abroad.

These students are more lucrative to colleges, as they pay higher fees, and universities say internationalisation also enhances the quality of learning, teaching and research on Irish campuses.

The statistics are contained in the 2019 Irish Survey of Student Engagement, which polled more than 40,000 third-level students.

The survey of students’ experiences shows international students are less likely to report “excellent” interactions with other students.

This echoes other research which has flagged a divide in colleges, with Irish students more likely to go home on weekends and internationals students more likely to remain on campus.

In general, however, international students responded positively about their experiences at third level, even more strongly than Irish students.

For example, international students reported significantly higher engagement in a number of indicators, including the quality of interactions with staff and the supportive environment at their institution.

Postgraduate research students from overseas reported a particularly high frequency and quality of engagement in areas such as career advice, placement and internship, and training in entrepreneurship and innovation.

The report says the findings suggest higher-education institutions are delivering an educational experience to international students of comparable quality to that experienced by Irish students.

Engagement

However, it flagged the issue of engagement with Irish students as a challenge that will prompt institutions to establish better opportunities for students to mix.

Dr Douglas Proctor, director of UCD Global, said it had responded to concerns among international students regarding barriers to making friends locally.

He said UCD had revamped its programme of support for international students with a refurbished hub for activities and events designed to foster interactions between domestic and international students.

It had also hired a “global experience manager” to help with a range of initiatives.

Mary Simpson, Athlone Institute of Technology’s director of international affairs, said it was now encouraging its students to “reach out and get to know our new international students as they can learn so much from each other”.

“We understand that our international students come from different backgrounds, and staff encourage and motivate them, particularly during the sometimes difficult transition period of semester one on campus,” she said.