A HUNDRED THOUSAND WELCOMES FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS: Ireland

Article excerpt

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. …