State in foreign student drive

A MAJOR €300m a year surge in spending by foreign students was promised by the Taoiseach yesterday.

The Government plans to increase international students in higher education by 12,000, or 50%, over the next five years boosting the sector to a €1.2bn business.

A new visa regime and higher standards will be key planks of the reform.

Only schools who secure the quality mark for standards will be allowed to educate foreign students.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern acknowledged rogue schools had damaged Ireland’s international reputation.

“There will be better inspections and more co-ordinated inspections. Because there is no doubt the reputation of these schools generally has been somewhat damaged by these bogus schools,” he said.

About 17,000, or one in 10 of all full-time students at present are from foreign language backgrounds. The Government plans to boost this to 25,000 by 2015.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said education offered a major economic opportunity for Ireland. “This is a very highly-competitive area of activity. This year we have over 100,000 English-language students who have come to Ireland. We want to make sure that’s built up to 120,000 by 2015,” Mr Cowen said.

Tánaiste and Minister for Education Mary Coughlan said the new quality mark should be in operation by year’s end and would help the country’s profile abroad.

“What we are saying is that if you don’t achieve the quality mark, you do not participate in the new visa programme,” she said.

As part of the initiative to boost the current €900m a year financial intake to €1.2bn, MrAhern launched a new immigration regime for international students, reforming entry requirements while at the same time imposing safeguards to prevent abuse of the system.

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