Recruiting international students

Still on the subject of the interview on Morning Ireland by the Minister for Education and Science (see my last post), it was good to see him placing some emphasis on international student recruitment. He indicated – and this is most welcome – that work is being done to improve the visa system. The current inefficiencies, bureaucracies and slow response rates when international students apply for Irish visas is losing us students, but more importantly still is compromising our reputation overseas.

The Minister was also keen to point out that a high level group he has established will be setting ‘ambitious targets’ for international student recruitment, affecting all universities and colleges. I suspect that target setting is the wrong exercise, and will not add much to our success as a country. Universities and other higher education institutions are already working hard to increase the number of international students.

In some ways, the recruitment of students is only one aspect of all this, and arguably the easiest. What is perhaps more important is that Ireland does not become active in other countries just as a recruiter of students, but rather that we engage with partners in those countries and establish links that add value at various levels, including research collaboration. We should also be willing to offer our support in those countries, perhaps through the occasional secondment of academics and through staff and student exchanges. We need to ensure that where we do recruit students, we provide them with support and advice that will help them make the cultural transition, and that we respect and support their specific needs.

And finally, it is important that we consider carefully what the optimum number of international students would be in our institutions. International students are most welcome, and add much through their different experiences, insights and cultures. But this works best when the mix between domestic and international students is carefully judged. In my experience, the number of international students as a proportion of the whole student body should not exceed a figure of around or just below 20 per cent.

There is much we can usefully do to build and enhance the international student experience. However, I suspect that target setting is the least of it.

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13 Comments on “Recruiting international students”

  1. Mark Dowling Says:

    Recruiting students to fill university places fills university coffers with non-EU rate fees but what does it do for Ireland?

    By contrast, Canada has introduced the Canada Experience Class for immigration – they realised that some of the best people to invite to live in Canada full time are those who have already done it, rather than have people live here for a number of years, acclimatise to the culture and then be sent home to apply from scratch in their home country.

    Don’t recruit students. Recruit future citizens.

  2. kevin denny Says:

    Mark what it does is exactly what you say, it fills the university coffers and helps finance an important & under-funded sector. This is not to be sneezed at. In fact its to be welcomed. We export services that we are good at & education is one of them.
    Now clearly there has to be limits because there is a potential for Irish students to be crowded out so one could set some limit, like the 20% rule perhaps. From the students point of view there are gains in having students from different cultures around them. As a student (& indeed as an academic) I would much rather have a motivated student in the class beside me from China than a student from Ireland who wasn’t that bothered.
    In many American university graduate programs, the majority of students are foreign. Seems to work pretty well.

  3. Jilly Says:

    There is an elephant in the living room where our university’s recruitment of international students is concerned, and that is what the diversity and cultural difference actually means in the classroom. Different cultures have very different understandings of the value or even definitions of ‘critique’, ‘independent thought’ and perhaps even the nature of scholarship itself.

    This is not to say that these differences aren’t fascinating in themselves, nor that bridges between the different approaches can’t be created. But doing that requires a support structure of some magnitude, which in turn requires resources. It cannot be done within regular classes, and within regular teaching structures in our universities, simply by placing the international students in our classrooms alongside local students, and expecting them to think and behave just like local students. Quite a lot of effort (though I think often not enough) is put into bridging language barriers for international students, but almost none is put into bridging conceptual or value differences. This is a BIG problem.

  4. Vincent Says:

    Kids sitting the Leaving or a parent of same would be furious at hearing this. Now if I meet one of those people, what exactly do I say when 50% of those who apply will not get a place and from the Minister down see nothing odd with the two conversations going on at the same time. Suppose, the parent held a medical card or cannot afford health insurance how would I explain the difference between the health situation and what is being proposed for third level re; your 20% of overseas students. Especially since I see patterns of similarity between the two.


    • Vincent, I am not wholly sure what your point is. But in case this is relevant, it is worth stating that not a single international student displaces an Irish one. If all of our international students disappeared in the morning, we wouldn’t be able to recruit a single Irish student to replace them, as the funding basis is different. On the contrary: because the overseas students help support Irish students with their fees, if we lost them we would have to scale down the number of Irish students we can afford to recruit.

      • Vincent Says:

        But that’s the whole point, how can this be the case. Given that the very existence of the School is dependent on the State. So, how can the normal person explain to themselves, their son or daughter that this isn’t a whole heap of Accountants hooey.

  5. Aoife Citizen Says:

    Foreign students are a plus in every way, the make the university experience more cosmopolitan, they bring more, and more diverse, foreigners into Ireland, something we sorely need, they put Ireland in the education business, there is no industry with better values and more dignity and they add income to the third level sector. They add drive, ambition and impetus, some stay and add to the economy, those who leave have an enduring link with the country, or more particularly the city they spent time in.

    It’s win win win.

    To be more effective at recruitment we need massively more student accommodation, we need better planning, much more support from Dublin Council for example, in planning around the Universities, we need University Quarters. The whole Dublin plan, just published, barely mentions the Universities. It was crazy.


    • Aoife, I’ll needs to have another look, but as far as I can recall the City Council plan is heavily built around three ‘corridors’, two of which are university-based (i.e. the TCD-UCD ‘alliance, and DCU). I do agree with your general comments, however.

      • Aoife Citizen Says:

        I spent a few hours looking through it and that isn’t enough to be sure, but my impression was that while there was a view aspirational comments about innovation, as you mention, but without actionable details; there was no, or almost no, mention of third level from the point of view of education, rather than innovation.

        I would love to be corrected on this!

  6. Aoife Citizen Says:

    Sorry about the sorry state of my last comment; since I’m dyslexic, grammar and other finer points of effective articulation are early casualties to fatigue.

    • Aoife Citizen Says:

      . . . but, in summary; DCC seems to have no intention of being as good to its Universities as city councils are elsewhere and its seems to have no vision for Dublin as an education capital, as well as an innovation one.

  7. kevin denny Says:

    There is an additional argument for encouraging foreign students (though I think the ones above are more than sufficient). We would like our young people to study abroad & compete without prejudice for places (as I & other contributors here did), so there is a certain inconsistency if we aren’t equally open to flows into the country.
    A further small point is that education can be an important form of development aid since HE institutions in the poorest countries are often quite weak.

  8. Marco Says:

    Being an international student in Ireland i can see the need of recruiting more international students into the country.However,Irish college students should be more open to differences that we bring in.I am not trying to take over Ireland, neither its beautifull culture or create a segregation club,but it seems like irish students do not reach out to make friends from people from other backgrounds.Its quite sad because we want to make friends,learn more about the couture,music,social life but it seems hard when you dont have an oportunity.It gets worse when the college/Uni does not have such support.The goverment cant do much if its society is inclusive to itself and does not reach out to international students making them confortable ensuring them we can have the best time here while in college.If things dont change remember, we`ll be embassadors of the institution we went to.Do not be surprised if a rapid decline in international stundents happen in the next 5 years.


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