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.

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9 Comments on “Organising international student recruitment”

  1. Eduard Du Courseau Says:

    Hi Ferdinand

    What exactly do you mean by a sensible balance between home and international students? Ah, I thought so, there is no magic number as in immigration or any other anti-foreigner prejudice.

    This fairly empty declaration about sensible balances along with your piece about prioritising home students suggest that you primarily see international students as a cash cow.

    But some of the world’s best institutes of higher education do not hold similar parochial views- fortunately for Irish people like me who have been able to study in the UK and Australia- and have fully embraced internationalisation of the student experience for sound and englightened economic, academic and cultural reasons which (triple bottom line) are all inter-related.

    What Ireland needs to do is to attract global talent to its universities. Both international students and staff.

    • Eduard, you clearly haven’t read my post properly, since the whole point of it was to emphasise that international student recruitment must *not* be seen as a cash cow, but must work to suit an internationalisation agenda. I am strongly in favour of immigration (and have written several posts on this).

    • Eduard du Courseau Says:

      To be honest, Ferdinand, I did read your piece very carefully and would suggest that you have over-reacted to my considered and thoughtful reply.

      To double-check your sincerity I would urge you to answer my simple question: what do you mean by a sensible balance and which criteria are you attempting to balance?

      The kinds of comments you are now making were made many years ago in Australia and the UK but fortunately were ignored. Do you not think that institutes such as Oxford University or the LSE would be diminished without having such large numbers of international students?

      And please explain why a country such as Ireland should prioritise h/e provision for its own citizens?

      • Eduard, sorry – but you still haven’t really read my post! I have *never* suggested Ireland (or anyone else) should prioritise their own citizens. What I have said is that you cannot succeed in international student recruitment if the purpose appears to be to make them subsidise the domestic students. You need a balance because international students themselves go to another destination in order to mix with the local domestic students.

  2. Hi Ferdinand,

    I agree with your viewpoint that the current approach to International student recruitment will only dilute the quality of students choosing to come in. I would also like to raise a few other points which may be relevant – for one thing, there is a ‘self-centredness’ in Ireland’s approach to immigrants and immigrant students in particular – almost like a ‘use-and-throw’ attitude that is quite frankly, repulsive. Ireland has to wake up to the fact that in the bigger scheme of things, Ireland is only one of the countries in the Western world that aspires to and has the qualities to attract good international students. If it continues to take a narrow perspective, the result can only be detrimental to Ireland’s long-term interests. As you rightly point out, international students cannot be merely a fund source for educational institutions. They need to be viewed as human resources that will provide valuable expertise and serve as ambassadors for Ireland in the future. Their needs and aspirations should be taken seriously and Ireland’s offering should give them that unique advantage which will make it worth their while to choose this country over several others.
    A plan that merely focuses on numbers commoditises education too much and cannot serve the long term goals of Ireland as an attractive destination for foreign students who will bring in much more than fees.

  3. RGU1 Says:

    What plans do you have for internationalisation at Robert Gordon University?

  4. RGU1 Says:

    In light of the review of UK BA policy oon immigration and capping of student visas how timely do you think the IC-RGU collaboration with Navitas is?

  5. Ned Costelo Says:

    What was launched was not an agency but the brand identity “Education in Ireland” which is sponsored by Enterprise Ireland and is the identity for the government’s strategy for internationalisation in the education sphere.

    • Thank you, Ned, I wasn’t wholly sure what the status of the initiative was. However, even then I am not quite sure what, in this context, constitutes a ‘brand’; presumably there is a team of people in EI that manages it, and if so then it is for all practical purposes an agency. But I can see that it was not launched as such!

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