IRISH colleges are maintaining their share of United States students on campus, despite the global economic downturn.
Ireland is still the ninth most popular destination, catering for 6,858 US students in higher education in the 2008/2009 academic year — down 0.3% on the previous year and representing 2.6% of all US students at college overseas. Government plans to increase full-time international student numbers from 17,000 to 25,000 by 2015 would raise their contribution to the economy to €1.2 billion a year.
According to the Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange published by the Institute of International Education, the biggest destination for US students is still Britain, but the numbers there fell by 6% last year to just over 31,300.
The numbers studying overseas from the US also fell by between 2.5% to 26% in four of the other eight countries with a higher share than Ireland in the 2008/2009 college year.
The US remains the biggest country of origin for international students in Ireland, up from 16% in 2004 to 17.3% of the 25,781 higher education students here last year, followed by China which has 13% of international students. Around 8% come from France and 6% of visiting students are from Britain and the North.
The growth in US students at Irish colleges (up almost one-third in five years) has almost been matched by the number of Irish students going to north American campuses. In 2005, there were 976 Irish students in the US, but the figure passed 1,200 last year, two-thirds on basic degrees or postgraduate study or research.
However, they are just a tiny proportion of almost 700,000 overseas students at American colleges, with almost 450,000 coming from Asia and just 85,000 being European students.
The most popular institutions for Irish graduates are New York University, Columbia University (New York), Harvard University (near Boston), Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of Notre Dame (Indiana). Those taking primary degrees are most likely to attend Northeastern in Massachusetts, Scranton in Pennsylvania, New York’s SUNY Stony Brook University, Purdue in Indiana, or Harvard.
Rising numbers of inquiries are being handled from Irish families about studying in the US, according to Colleen Dube, executive director of the Fulbright Commission in Ireland. As well as sending more than 1,600 Irish postgraduate students, academics and professionals to US colleges and research institutes since 1957, including 23 in the current academic year, the Fulbright office in Dublin is also the country’s official source of information about educational opportunities in the US.
“In the last year, there’s been about a 15% rise in inquiries, more than 200 people contacted us from September to November. People realise there’s going to be an increasing cost to education in Ireland. They’re looking very critically and saying, ‘if I’m going to invest, I’m going where the best skills are available’,” says Ms Dube.
“For undergraduates, many US colleges realise that students with a strong Leaving Certificate are strong candidates, they have broad extra curricular interest and they take a log of Irish people on scholarships,” she explains.
With a range of other supports and financial aids also available, the option should remain viable for many second level students. However, with complex application procedures and entrance requirements for many colleges, those considering crossing the Atlantic for their degree should be thinking about an autumn 2012 start, if they are only beginning the process now.
“Irish students tend to leave things a bit late and may have missed the boat for 2011, we’d advise them to look at the process about 18 months in advance,” says Ms Dube.
Anybody thinking about the prospect may learn something of the benefits and challenges of study in the US from some of the postgraduates profiled on this page, who are currently Fulbright awardees.
* Information on studying in the US available in the Education USA pages of the Fulbright Commission website for Ireland — www.fulbright.ie
ANNA Moynihan, a food science graduate of UCC, is just over half way through her PhD into ways of improving the texture and flavour of low-fat cheddar cheese.
She has spent the last few months at University of Wisconsin, where the specialist lab equipment offers her a chance to get into more detailed work. And who in the world of dairy science wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to have daily access to a microfluidiser, a TA.XT2 texture analyser, or a Zeiss epi-fluorescence microscope?
“I’m hoping the results will be positive in the end. It’s really helping my thesis that I can have access to this top equipment, I plan to make the most of this,” said the 25-year-old from Luke’s Cross on the northside of Cork city.
“Getting to experience the different ways to approach my research and building new ties is a wonderful opportunity. I’m also gaining a new appreciation for Irish culture, as well as a better understanding of a diverse range of other cultures,” she said.
The biggest obstacle was arriving last autumn after the start of term and finding a place to live, but she managed to sub-let from a student who had previously spent time at college in Germany.
“One of the unusual things here is that you rent accommodation with no furniture, but I was lucky this girl left some of her things here for me to use,” she said.
There are also Irish ties, one being her supervisor, Professor John Lucey, studied at UCC 20 years ago and did his PhD at agriculture research organisation Teagasc’s Moorepark facility near Fermoy, Co Cork.
Anna is in the US for a year as last year’s recipient of the Fulbright-Teagasc award in agriculture. As well as daily interaction with Prof Lucey, she is in regular contact with her supervisor, Prof Paul McSweeney, dean of UCC’s food science and technology faculty.
“Our day here is pretty much like it was for the first two years of my PhD at UCC. We do a full day from about 9am to 6pm. I’ve spent the first semester getting used to the equipment but I hope to get a lot of work done up to next September and then write it all up,” she said.
As well as the changed academic environment, Anna is also adapting to the cold winter. “I plan to try out skiing and ice skating as soon as I can.”
MARIE DARMODY teaches an Irish class but her students have never even stepped foot in the country.
And like most Tipperary natives, she took great enjoyment in watching her hurling heroes defeat Kilkenny in last September’s All-Ireland final.
But she did so over early breakfast, as she is living and working in Indiana, where she is a teaching assistant at the prestigious University of Notre Dame.
She has been giving lessons as Gaeilge since the autumn to a dozen students ranging from recent school-leavers to those preparing for doctoral degrees.
“My students here mostly have some Irish connection and wanted to take a language they had some personal link with.”
Marie has a degree in Irish and French from University College Cork and a postgraduate qualification in Irish translation from NUI Galway, which she followed up last year with a higher diploma to teach at second-level.
But when the chance to use her teaching skills overseas arose through the Fulbright Commission earlier this year, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I was tempted by the idea of work in translation in the EU maybe, but I felt the work would be too lonely and I like dealing with people,” she explained.
“The life and work experience over here has been just fantastic, although I had to learn to cope on my own as I’ve never lived abroad for long before. It’s very multicultural here which gives me a very different perspective on a lot of things.”
She will remain at Notre Dame until May as part of her Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) award.
While the level of Irish her students attain will give them just basic conversational skills, she is pleased with their progress so far.
However, some have been surprised to learn they may not get much response if they start up a chat through Irish on a visit here.
“Many of them plan to continue with me to the next level in the spring semester and some hope to study abroad in Dublin next year in order to be completely immersed in Irish culture,” said the 24-year-old.
A native of Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Marie has already used her time at Notre Dame to see some of the US’s famous sights like the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains. One of the biggest cultural differences she notices is in how we eat.
“It’s particularly hard to shop for one here, everything is super-sized. The international aisle in the supermarket stocks a certain number of Irish imports, but there are many things I miss — rashers, sausages, bread and Cadbury’s chocolate to name but a few!”
THE internet provides most researchers with access to the journals they need but Mary Healy has had to travel the world to source her material.
The last time she had to reference the 19th century Le Monde Illustré, in the early stages of her study at University of Limerick’s history department, she had to fly to France. But being a Fulbright Scholar and Government of Ireland Scholar at University of Yale, she had an 1898 issue shipped from Princeton to her desk when she needed it for a review of a work by Marie Lucas-Robiquet.
“It’s amazing to have all these manuscripts, journals and other material at my fingertips,” said the 32-year-old who is completing a PhD on women artists in French orientalism.
The subject matter covers works in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, a period for which very little information exists about successful women artists who depicted life in the French colonies in the Middle-East and north Africa.
“I was two years into my PhD at UL and knew I had to go abroad for strong mentoring, which I have here from Professor Carol Armstrong at Yale’s department of the history of art,” she said.
The information she has already collected between her time at Yale and previous trips to France could keep her going with further research for more than another decade, so little has been recorded about the artists in question to date.
“They went into homes of women in private settings, doing washing and cooking and other everyday things,” says Mary.
The Limerick School of Art and Design graduate from Coomhola, near Bantry, Co Cork, has found the academic life at Yale exceptionally demanding but also reports multiple rewards that make it worthwhile.
“There are weekly guest lectures from experts you might rarely hear in Ireland, and I gave an open lecture on my research here in November, which brought invaluable feedback from different experts,” said Mary.
“Personal lifestyles are very different in the US, everything is very fast-paced. The first few months have flown by for me,” she said.