A HUNDRED THOUSAND WELCOMES FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS: Ireland
Connell, Christopher, International Educator
Although a small player in the large Anglophone pond, Ireland is leveraging its new found wealth, technological prowess, and long history of higher education to attract a growing share of international students.
IRELAND'S CELTIC TIGER ECONOMY HAS COOLED A FEW DEGREES, but its ardor for international education is hotter than ever, with Irish politicians and professors alike hoping to perpetuate the recent prosperity by building up its universities and research institutes and attracting more talent from the world over. The push is on, not just from the stately campus of four-century-old Trinity College, Dublin, and the half-dozen other national universities from the capital to Cork, Galway Limerick, and Maynooth, but also at the bustling Dublin Institute of Technology and a baker's dozen smaller institutes that span the island, from Letterkenny in Donegal to Tralee in Kerry, now turning out business and IT majors as well as their famous beauty queens.
A Changing Paradigm for Higher Education
If its dreams-including doubling the number of international students and the production of Ph.D.s, and boosting the college-participation rate for Ireland's own from 55 to 70 percent-are audacious, Ireland's rapid ascent into the ranks of the world's wealthiest countries seems even more implausible. The roaring '90s and early 2000s pushed the gross national income per capita in 2006 to $44,830, the sixth highest in the world-and higher than the U.S. ($44,710). "The state has fundamentally changed from a protectionist, agricultural economy with low wages and net outward migration to a very inward migrating, technologically led and very wealthy country," said Dublin Institute of Technology President Brian Norton. DIT, an amalgam of six technical colleges dating back to the late nineteenth century, now enrolls 22,000 students and awards degrees in fields from the arts and architecture to engineering, business, and hospitality. Norton himself is part of that inward migration. The British-educated engineer and renewable energy expert took the helm at DIT after serving as dean of engineering at University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. "I'm not Irish; we have staff who are Chinese and Egyptian. It's part of a cultural change within Dublin and within the country more generally," said Norton. "It's not a homogenous society; it's a multicultural society." By some estimates, 150,000 Irish have returned home since 2000, and Ireland has become a magnet for immigrants from Poland, Brazil, and many other lands.
Only a generation ago space was at a premium in Irish universities, which were hard-pressed to find enough places for Irish students, much less to welcome students from abroad. "The compe tition to get places was fierce when we were set up 16 yearsago," said John Lynch, chief executive of the International Education Board Ireland (IEBI), which recently adopted the name Education Ireland. "They were just chock-a-block. If you brought students in from the Middle East or Africa, people would say, 'There's Irish people who don't have places now who are well qualified for these courses.'" But that changed as Ireland's universities, technology institutes and private colleges grew to meet the demands. When demographers began projecting a small baby bust starting in 1998, Ireland's 53 higher education institutions "began to get more interested in international education," Lynch said. His board counted 27,275 international students at Irish institutions in 2006-07, up 75 percent-plus in four years and almost 150 percent since 2001-02. The robust technical institutes now enroll 4,000 international students and have tripled to 15 percent their share of the market. Private colleges enroll more than 5,000 international students. Griffith College Dublin, the largest private college with 8,500 students and prized space on a Dublin campus that once housed a military barracks, confers respected degrees in accounting, business, law, journalism, computers, music, and drama, and offers courses in Pakistan, Russia, and China as well as at branches in Cork, Waterford, Limerick, and Ennis. Still, twothirds of the international students-nearly 18,000-attend one of Ireland's seven national universities and 14 other "university recognized" public colleges.
The economic boom and the Belfast peace accords of 1998 ending the Troubles in Northern Ireland attracted the interest of business executives, tourists, and students the world over. Ireland had maintained the quality of its schools and colleges, even through the 1980s when it was still watching large numbers of graduates leave Ireland for opportunities elsewhere. The majority who stayed "became the young, educated workforce that attracted investment into the country," said Lynch. "We were no longer an island of 3y2-million people, but a doorway to a market of several hundred million in the European Union. We were also English speaking." Now the push in Ireland is to expand the country's research base and its "fourth level" capacity to produce more Ph.D.s and cutting-edge research. "It's the mantra everywhere in the developed world, that you have to move up in the knowledge economy to survive," said Lynch, a former theology lecturer.
Ned Costello, chief executive of the Irish Universities Association, speaking at a Ph.D. and Master's Conferring Ceremony at University College Cork in April, said investing in research "is central in the drive to turn Ireland from a country which is excellent at producing products and services based on imported ideas to one where those products and services derive from ideas generated here." In today's globalized world, Costello added, "physical and financial capital is very mobile. Intellectual capital is much less so and is the dominant source of competitive advantage today."
Harmonizing with European and International Frameworks
Ireland also moved adroitly to embrace quality standards and to harmonize its university offerings with the Bologna process, which facilitates mobility of students within the EU and gives employers a grasp of what skills the graduates of Irish institutions possess. Moving away from the old, Oxford/Cambridge model of studying all year for a final examination, Irish universities have adopted modularized, semester courses that give students wider choices and clearer pathways. Perhaps no campus has embraced this change more vigorously than University College Dublin, the largest Irish university, which has reorganized a plethora of balkanized faculties and departments into schools and colleges. UCD-formerly the Catholic University of Ireland founded by Cardinal John Henry Newman in 1854 as a counterweight to Trinity, which was then restricted to Protestants-now has 23,000 students enrolled across five colleges and 35 schools, including 3,300 international students. A quarter is pursuing graduate studies. In 2006 UCD joined Universitas 21, a global network of 21 research intensive universities in 13 countries, including the University of Melbourne in Australia, McGill University in Canada, Waseda University in Japan, Fudan University in China, the National University of Singapore, and the University of Virginia. "Positioning UCD as an international centre of excellence in an exceptionally competitive environment is an immense task on which the entire community at UCD has worked ceaselessly," UCD President Hugh Brady wrote.
Erik Lithander, UCD's director of international affairs, said, "As a country we have a very good international profile, not unlike that of New Zealand, which is we're a small, but increasingly economically successful, green, friendly, neutral nation. That actually gets you quite far in the world." The Swedish-bom, Cambridge-educated Lithander, who came to UCD from the University of Auckland in New Zealand (another Uniuersitas 21 member), added, "International students have been going to the UK and to the States for an awfully long time. We don't need too many of those to come to Ireland in order to have a significant impact on our recruitment." It helps that in places like the United States and Australia, millions trace their ancestral ties to Eire. "In the most unusual places you will find people with a great affinity to Ireland," said Lithander. "There's a wonderful almost mystique about Ireland in terms of its history, culture, music, and so on. But we also want to be seen as a dynamic university at the forefront of research and teaching." So Lithander foresees that UCD's stepped up recruiting will draw "on the heartstrings" and "on the dynamism we've seen in the last few years."
New Zealand comes up often in conversations with Irish educators, in part because, after the Republic's recent growth spurt, they have the same size population (4.2 million; in addition, Northern Ireland's population is 1.7 million), but also because New Zealand attracts 40,000 international students each year. New Zealand had been attracting as many as 50,000 in 2004, but that number fell due to a sharp downturn in Chinese enrollments. UNESCO says more than 1 million students each year study in Anglophone countries. New Zealand and Ireland are small players in that market, dominated by the United States (nearly 600,000 international students) the United Kingdom (300,000), and Australia (167,000).
Forty percent, or 11,033, of Ireland's 27,275 international students in 2006-07 hailed from European Union countries; more than a third came on Erasmus and other exchanges that make it easy for EU students to go abroad for part of their studies. Some 15,600 international students-58 percent-came from more than a hundred countries outside Europe, with the United States sending the most, followed by China/Hong Kong (see box "Ireland's International Students in 2006-07"). Business is Ireland's leading draw for international students, attracting 27 percent of full-time students, followed by medicine and allied health (19 percent) and humanities (also 19 percent). Science and information and communication technology each account for 8 percent of the majors, followed by engineering (6 percent), hospitality/tourism (4 percent) and law (2 percent). No major was specified for 8 percent of students. Most are undergraduates, including some doing short-term study abroad. All told, Lynch's board estimates that international students paid euro164 million in tuition and an additional euro208 million on accommodation and other living expenses in 2006-07, or more than $580 million.
Ambitious Goals, But Still Limited Infrastructure
Tom Boland, chief executive of the Higher Education Authority, an independent statutory body that advises the government on policy and holds the purse strings for Ireland's universities, institutes and leading public colleges, in April urged that Ireland aim to double the number of non-European students over a decade. To achieve that, he said, "We've got to make sure that those who come here to study are afforded the full Irish welcome for which we are famous."
In articulating that goal, Boland was being hortatory, not giving marching orders. "Our role at HEA is very much an advocacy one and one of publicizing Ireland's attractiveness abroad. We don't actually have a direct mandate to do this," he explained in an interview. While the HEA has a staff of 60, Education Ireland for now is getting by with just four. Although the old IEBI has begun using the new brand name on its letterhead and on banners at international education conferences and fairs, the Ministry of Education has yet to establish Education Ireland as a statutory agency, with a full marketing budget and staff, as recommended by an intergovernmental working group in 2004. "We are very tiny, very much an interim agency at this point," said Lynch. Still, he added, the new name "makes more sense. People understand what Education Ireland is about." Education New Zealand, by contrast, is a non-profit with a 10-person staff in Wellington that works in tandem with the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise agency and has part-time marketers deployed in a dozen cities across Asia, two in South America and two more in Hamburg, Germany, and Washington, D.C.
Varying Methods for Reaching Out
For now, Ireland is relying largely on the enthusiasm and expertise of its universities, colleges and institutes to bring in more international students. UCD's Lithander said, "It's fair to say that there are still some discussions to be had to iron out the process we are going to go through to achieve that doubling. There's no question that if we are to achieve it, there's going to have to be a supportive national framework." Historically, the student numbers grew "organically" without much marketing, he added. "The students have found their way to UCD. Not many of our programs are marketed heavily internationally. The exceptions would be our graduate business programs and our medicine programs, which are very heavily international." Most of the 1,300 Malaysian students in Ireland are studying to become medical doctors, as are a couple of hundred U.S. students enrolled in the five Irish medical colleges.
While the marketing budget for Education Ireland may be up in the air, Ireland is pouring billions into building the research and development capacity of both universities and industries in Ireland. It already spends 1.6 percent of the gross domestic product on R&D and the government aims to boost that to 2.5 percent by 2013. Doubling the number of new Ph.D.s is one of the ways it hopes to get there. The HEA's Boland said, "We're operating under a plan that will see euro8 billion invested in research by 2013. That's going to create an enormous attraction for postgraduate and postdoctoral students, and we very much wish to see a significant proportion of those be international students."
Trinity College, with its choice 47 acres in the heart of Dublin across from the former Houses of Parliament, the illuminated Book of Kells in its library, and an alumni roster that includes Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and Mary Robinson, remains Ireland's most celebrated university, with 15,000 students, including 2,300 from other countries. It ranked fifty-third in the Times Higher Education Supplement's list of the world's top 500 universities (UCD was one hundred seventy-seventh). "Like most universities throughout the world, we, too, are interested in growing our international student enrollment numbers," said Director of International Affairs John McPartland. He hastened to add, "we're not surfing the seas of the world to trawl up large numbers. We're not prepared to compromise on our high academic standards." But with most of Trinity's international students now coming from Europe, the U.S. and Canada, "we've made a deliberate decision strategically that we want to diversify and get a good spread of students coming from different parts of the world," said the Scottish-born McPartland, a veteran of two decades of international education work on behalf of Australian universities. He was drawn to Dublin in 2006 by the challenge of working with Trinity's "fantastic brand."
Ireland is the tenth leading study abroad destination for U.S. students, according to Open Doors 2007, after the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, France, Australia, Mexico, China, Germany, and Costa Rica. With widening interest among U.S. students in study abroad, Irish educators are confident those numbers will grow. The Republic and Northern Ireland now market tourism jointly under the banner of Tourism Ireland, and Education Ireland markets all nine universities on the island, including Queen's University Belfast and University of Ulster. "Northern Ireland is a very exciting place to be at the moment. It's friendly, it's safe and it's very vibrant," Joyce Forsythe, international officer for the University of Ulster, said at the Education Ireland booth at the recent NAFSA Annual Conference in Washington. Ulster has 1,000 international students (out of 23,000) and, like everyone else, is looking for more.
When the Institute of Technology Tralee opened its doors as a small technical college in the heart of Kerry on Ireland's scenic, southwest comer in 1977, it was envisioned that it might grow to 800 students. Today it has 3,500 on two campuses, including 140 international students. Diego Cavero Alonso, 22, a Spanish computer science student who spent nine months there in 2006-07 on an Erasmus exchange from the Universidad de Leon, Spain, said, "I wanted to go as an Erasmus student to a country where people speak English and my university only had agreements with Dublin and Tralee. I did not know anything about Tralee before; I did not know where it was." But he found the setting both beautiful and congenial and calls Ireland "maybe the best country in Europe to learn English." He's not alone in that opinion. In addition to college students, Ireland draws more than 100,000 language students each year to its English language learning centers.
The sheer beauty of Ireland beckons some. On that score, St. Angela's College in Sligo, on the shore of Lough Gil in the heart of Yeats country, overlooking the famed Lake Isle of Innisfree and its "bee-loud glade," offers classes in one of Ireland's most pristine settings. Ursuline nuns began the college in 1952 to train home economics teachers. Now part of the National University of Ireland, Galway, it now offers degrees in education, culinary arts, textiles, fashion, nursing, economics, and social studies. It also boasts several commodious banks of new student residences that double in the summertime as a Celtic studies and convention center drawing international students. Jeremiah Lynch, Chief Executive of Innisfree International College & Convention Center, has signed up professors from several Irish universities to teach the visitors. At a small booth at the recent NAFSA Conference and Expo in Washington, D.C. several aisles from Education Ireland's large display, Lynch said, "I'm offering something different. Over beyond they are involved in pure education; this is study tourism over here."
No campus in Ireland can rival the view from St. Angela's, boasted Lynch, a former military officer. "Here, with the Lake Isle of Innisfree in front of you, this is the unspoiled Ireland."
The first known settlements in Ireland began around 8000 B.C. Although they were not the first inhabitants of the island, the influence of the Celts has been very strong in Irish culture. Ireland was a major center for learning in Europe throughout much of the early to middle Medieval period, earning it the sobriquet'the Island of Saints and Scholars/ Invasions by Vikings that began in the late eighth century were finally ended when King Brian Boru defeated the Danes in 1014 at Clontarf. English invasions began in the twelfth century and set off more than seven centuries of Anglo-Irish struggle marked by fierce rebellions and harsh repressions. A failed 1916 Easter Monday Rebellion touched off several years of guerrilla warfare that in 1921 resulted in independence from the UK for 26 southern counties; six northern counties remained part of the UK In 1949 Ireland withdrew from the British Commonwealth; it joined the European Community in 1973. Irish governments have sought the peaceful reunification of Ireland and have cooperated with Britain against terrorist groups. A peace settlement for Northern Ireland is being implemented with some difficulties. In 2006 the Irish and British governments developed and began to implement the St. Andrews Agreement, building on the Good Friday Agreement approved in 1998.
Western Europe, occupying five-sixths of the island of Ireland in the North Atlantic Ocean, west of Great Britain
Temperate maritime; modified by North Atlantic Current; mild winters, cool summers; consistently humid; overcast about half the time
Mostly level to rolling interior plain surrounded by rugged hills and low mountains; sea cliffs on west coast
4,156,119 (July 2008 est.)
noun: Irishman(men), Irishwoman(women), Irish (collective plural); adjective: Irish
Irish 87.9%, other white 6.9%, Asian 13%, black 11%, mixed 1.1%, unspecified 17% (2006 census)
Roman Catholic 88.4%, Church of Ireland 3%, other Christian 1.6%, other 15%, unspecified 2%, none 3.5% (2002 census)
English (official) is generally used, Irish (Gaelic or Gaeilge) (official) spoken mainly in areas located along the western seaboard
99% age 15 and over can read and write
Republic, parliamentary democracy
December 6,1921 (from UK by treaty)
Adopted July 1, 1937 by plebiscite; effective December 29, 1937
Based on English common law, substantially modified by indigenous concepts; judicial review of legislative acts in Supreme Court; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
Chief of state: President Mary MCALEESE (since November 11, 1997)
HEAD OF GOVERNMENT:
Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen (since May 7, 2008)
Cabinet appointed by the president with previous nomination by the prime minister and approval of Dáil Éireann (lower house of Oireachtas Éireann, aka Irish Parliament)
Ireland is a small, modern, trade-dependent economy with growth averaging 6 percent in 1995-2007. Agriculture, once the most important sector, is now dwarfed by industry and services. Although the exports sector, dominated by foreign multinationals, remains a key component of Ireland's economy, construction has most recently fueled economic growth along with strong consumer spending and business investment. Property prices have risen more rapidly in Ireland in the decade up to 2006 than in any other developed world economy. Per capita GDP is 40 percent above that of the four big European economies and the second highest in the EU behind Luxembourg, and in 2007 surpassed that of the United States. The Irish Government has implemented a series of national economic programs designed to curb price and wage inflation, invest in infrastructure, increase labor force skills, and promote foreign investment. Aslowdown in the property market, more intense global competition, and increased costs, however, have compelled government economists to lower Ireland's growth forecast slightly for 2008. Ireland joined in circulating the euro on January 1, 2002 along with 11 other EU nations.
Source: CIA World Factbook
CHRISTOPHER CONNELL is a veteran Washington, D.C journalist and former assistant bureau chief of the Associated Press.…
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Publication information: Article title: A HUNDRED THOUSAND WELCOMES FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS: Ireland. Contributors: Connell, Christopher - Author. Magazine title: International Educator. Publication date: January 1, 2008. Page number: 11+. © NAFSA : ASSOCIATION OF INTERNATIONAL EDUCATORS 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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