International students: for learning or for money?

Just as the prospective Irish government tells us that universities should double the number of international students they recruit, we read that in Britain 10 per cent of university revenues now come from overseas student fees. International education is increasingly not seen as something that links countries culturally and intellectually, but rather as a key export service that helps to improve the balance of payments and provides cash for higher education institutions.

Of course international students do provide an income for their universities, and the funds thereby gained are welcome. But this should not be the primary objective, and once it becomes so universities will be tempted to take commercial and quality risks in order to maximise their revenues.

International students have significant requirements and needs, and they need to be integrated into the host university community while also having the opportunity to share something of their cultural backgrounds. To do this satisfactorily they need to be integrated into classes with a good mix of domestic and international students.

It is undoubtedly desirable for universities to recruit international students. However, this should be done with government support, but without simplistic targets and without a blatantly commercial approach to globalised education.

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7 Comments on “International students: for learning or for money?”

  1. Richard Says:

    It is interesting that the recent Bradley review of Australian higher education ( raised specific concerns about the quality of the educational experience being received by international students in Australian institutions. One of the recommendations was the separation of the promotion and regulatory functions for international education. International education, as we know, accounts for a very large portion of Australian foreign revenue. Any question marks about the quality of the exeperience has significant imnplications for the bottom line in Australia.

    I don’t believe, in general, we are at that point here in Ireland but significant and rapid expansion could result in a tipping point being reached unless the expansion is carefully matched with the appropriate on the ground support measures.

  2. Ernie Ball Says:

    Irish universities are paying no more than lip service to internationalisation. What they understand by “internationalisation” is nothing more than this: foreign students come here and give us their money. It is no more complicated and no less crass than that.

    Look at UCD’s vaunted “Confucius Institute”. To say it’s half-baked is a slander to Twinkies. The “Projects” link of the web page features this enlightening text under “Research”:

    Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

    They couldn’t even be arsed to replace the dummy text with some actual, you know, words about the research they are undertaking there and this some five years after the founding of the place.

    But that is only one small example. Here’s a bigger one: If Ireland’s universities were really committed to internationalisation, would the IUA have proposed and then attempted (and the attempt continues) to ram through a set of proposals regarding tenure, academic freedom, and academic worktime that will make it all-but-impossible for Irish universities to hire talented academics from abroad? That very act gives the lie to any high-minded codswallop about how “international” we are. If “internationalisation” pays, we’re the land of hundred thousand welcomes. If it requires actual investment on our part or an enlightened attitude to the recruitment and retention of academic staff, well then, if you’re Irish come into the parlour and do me a favour and stoke that fire, boy. All others stay the feck out.

  3. Al Says:

    Is the alternative to the internalionalisation laying off of surplus staff?

    • Jilly Says:

      What surplus staff? Certainly there are few if any surplus academic staff, given that Ireland’s staff/student ratios are some of the worst in the developed world.

      • Al Says:

        Well, if there is going to be an influx of international students then presumably, with the ECF there will be no more hirings, then the existing staff will take the load, then if there is no influx there is surplus staff?
        Not my own reasonings, I have to say…

    • Ernie Ball Says:

      Internationalisation costs money, Al. It may subsequently bring in money, but initially it costs. The proper way to internationalise is to make Irish universities attractive to foreign students and staff and to provide both with adequate supports/infrastructure for their time here to be productive and worthwhile.

      Ireland thinks it can simply proclaim itself “international” or “global,” inflict short-sighted restrictions on its staff, and watch the money flow in. It’s preposterous and it won’t take long for word to get out.

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