Ireland plan to attract 37,000 foreign students and generate an extra €520m a year

Ireland aims to take advantage of being the EU’s only English-speaking country in a plan to boost international student numbers by more than 37,000 and generate an extra €520m a year.

With Brexit now set to be finalised by early 2019, Education Minister Richard Bruton will launch a new international education strategy this morning in which a target of almost 11,000 extra third-level students has been set for the end of the 2019/2020 academic year.

The target for the English-language training (ELT) sector is set even higher, with plans to increase numbers from 106,000 to 132,500, a 25% increase.

“There will be strong opportunities for Ireland in the area of international education when Ireland becomes the only English-speaking member of the EU,” Mr Bruton said.

The ELT sector currently generates around €760m a year and it is intended to increase that by around €200m to just under €1bn.

Despite hundreds of overseas students being left at a loss when several English language colleges closed in recent years, the country continues to attract growing numbers from non-EU countries.

Marketing English in Ireland (MEI), representing 62 regulated English language schools, said there are indications that growth of recent years will continue. It said students from 89 countries came here last year to learn English but the challenge for the sector is to focus on areas and countries that will continue growing, as well as the traditionally strong markets like Italy, Spain and France.

“The Brexit vote is likely to continue to positively impact upon the international English language sector in Ireland. In part due to currency fluctuations and uncertain visa and regulatory issues, students are voting with their feet and seeking to come to Ireland in ever-increasing numbers to learn English,” said MEI chief executive David O’Grady.

The Department of Education strategy will direct funding at promotional campaigns in key markets like the United States, China, India, Brazil, Malaysia and the Gulf region. But focus will also be moved to high-potential markets in Canada, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Mexico, Chile, Argentina and Nigeria.

The higher education sector, currently valued at €819m a year, is being targeted for a 40% increase to €1.5bn by 2020, as it is intended to increase numbers of international students at public and private colleges from 33,118 in 2014/15 to 44,000. Each college will be expected to have internationalisation plans playing to their strengths, but work in clusters will also be promoted.

As well as attracting more students, the strategy plans a more cohesive approach to recruiting international researchers to help build research capacity and the commercialisation of research. In recent days, the risks to Britain about limited mobility of academics and research have been the subject of concern there after Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement of March 2017 as the start of the two-year countdown to the UK’s formal departure from the EU.

The last international education strategy published in 2010 was the subject of a review ordered by a former minister, Ruairi Quinn, three years ago over initial failures to increase student numbers. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of full-time international students at publicly-funded colleges fell 12% from over 12,000 to below 10,600.


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