Organising international student recruitment
In Ireland the new government has now been in place for a couple of weeks or so, and it is interesting to note what has been its first higher education initiative: international student recruitment. Last week Ruairi Quinn, Minister for Education and Skills (together with Richard Bruton, whose ministerial title is Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation), launched a new government campaign or brand, ‘Education in Ireland’, thereby implementing one of the commitments of the programme for government. According to the agency’s website, it will help to market Ireland ‘as a destination for students’ and will support Irish education institutions in doing so.
The idea in itself is not new, and for much of the past ten years attempts have been made to establish a body of this kind. However, sufficient resources were never made available and this (and one or two other obstacles) made the implementation of the plans difficult. Whether all this has now been overcome remains to be seen.
The government’s targets are not modest. In the announcement of the establishment of the agency the government declares that international student numbers in Ireland should be doubled to 52,o00. To put that in perspective, the Irish university sector has 96,000 students, and the institutes of technology have 62,000. Even allowing for the fact that a large proportion of the 52,000 students will be heading for the private English language colleges, this is still a massive number, and it may need to be said that international recruitment should not be seen as something with limitless potential: there needs to be a sensible balance of overseas and home students. I do not know how many students are targeted for the universities, but any number higher than 15,000 or so may not be appropriate.
It also needs to be emphasised again that international students – and their fee income – are no substitute for the proper funding of domestic students. It would not be reasonable to see international student recruitment as a method of subsiding core higher education activities. There are good reasons for recruiting overseas students, but this must be done for pedagogical and cultural reasons, and not just or mainly for financial ones. Seeing education largely as an export product creates significant quality risks. It is therefore important that those running this new initiative consider the brief carefully and that they work closely with the universities.