Universities facing huge losses due to fall in foreign students

Trinity College Dublin announces recruitment freeze as part of cost-saving strategy

Universities expect international student numbers will drop by about 80 per cent in the new academic year and result in the loss of hundreds of millions of euro.

Research commissioned by the Irish Universities Association estimates that the overseas student market is worth more than €385 million per year.

Several institutions contacted by The Irish Times privately estimate that this income will be “wiped out” this year as result of disruption linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, universities are factoring in the loss of tens of millions of euro in private income which would have been generated by the renting out student accommodation during summer months and hosting on-campus events.


The latest available figures show there were about 17,000 international students enrolled in Irish universities last year.

Tuition fees

Irish universities have become increasingly reliant on revenue from international tuition fees due to a reduction in State investment per student over the past decade or so.

The bulk of most university income is now generated privately and international fees account for a large proportion of this.

For example, fees for non-EU undergraduate students range between €10,000-€20,000 for students studying business, engineering and science, while they climb to between €40,000-€55,000 for those studying medicine.

Post-graduate non-EU students typically pay between €10,000 and €35,000.

Many senior figures within higher education believe that some form of additional State support will be needed to offset major losses.

In a message to staff on Friday, Trinity confirmed that it is facing “significant financial consequences” and announced a recruitment freeze as part of its cost-containment strategy.

The college is understood to be projecting a drop in revenues of tens of millions of euro this year and expects this may double next year.

A spokeswoman for University College Dublin said the college was still examining the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its finances and was looking at ways of containing costs.

At the University of Limerick, its president Des Fitzgerald said the college was also quantifying the financial impact of the pandemic.

“It seems likely at this stage, taking into account that additional Government funding has not yet been provided to the university, that a significant deficit will be incurred in both the current year and next year,” he said.

Jim Miley, director general of the Irish Universities Association confirmed that while the finances for institutions will be badly hit, the sector will not be found wanting in supporting efforts to combat the pandemic.

He said the sector was playing a crucial role across a range of areas such as training healthcare staff and assisting in research.

Mr Miley added that the sector will be crucial in assisting with the economic recovery and it will be vital to ensure that it is supported to do so.

CAO points

About two-thirds of international students are based in undergraduate programmes.

This has led to speculation that CAO points for some courses could drop for domestic students due to lower demand for places.

However, higher education sources say international students are mostly enrolled in areas such as medicine and have played down the prospect of points reductions across the board.

Meanwhile, many colleges are turning towards holding “virtual” open days for students in order to attract domestic students for the coming academic year.

Maynooth University, NUI Galway, Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) and Dundalk Institute of Technology are just some of the institutions organising these events.

WIT's marketing and outreach officer John Power said lecturers and support staff will be online to answer students' questions, while virtual campus tours will also be available.

“What’s really interesting is people can join the conversation online and see the questions other prospective students have,” he said.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent