International Student Sector Could Double To 1.8 Billion Euros —FG

International student sector could double to 1.8bn – FG

SEN FLYNN Education Editor
The Irish Times
Friday, March 19, 2010

MORE THAN 6,000 jobs could be created if Ireland makes a concerted effort to bring international students her, according to a new policy document from Fine Gael.

The document says Irelands disappointing share of the lucrative education market could be doubled by more joined up thinking among Government agencies.

It is also proposing a fast-track visa system for potential students. At present, the long delay in processing applications is seen as a major barrier to the development of the international student market.

The Fine Gael move comes amid claims that Ireland is punching below its weight on international education. While various studies have pointed to the huge potential of the sector, Ireland still has only 1 per cent of the international student market.

Fine Gael says it could double revenue from international education to 1.8 billion within five years. At present, the sector generates about 900 million 400 million from higher education and the rest from English language schools.

At a news conference in Dublin, Fine Gaels education spokes- man, Brian Hayes, said the party, when in government, will provide the political leadership to develop Irelands reputation globally as a prime international education destination.

Key features of the new plan include:
The establishment of an international education office (IEO) within the Department of Education and Science. This will facilitate a partnership approach between all agencies, departments and organisations working in the sector;
A new fast-track visa system in key markets. The IEO will identify target markets as part of its five-year plan for the sector- including China, United States, India, Russia and Taiwan. A fast-track visa system will be introduced for these key markets;
A new student visa procedure. The IEO in conjunction with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) will create a user-friendly student visa information website without delay.
This website will provide the international student with simple guidelines on how to apply for a visa, the cost involved and processing time.
This information will be available in the languages of the key markets identified in the international education strategy;
Issue green cards automatically to PhD students in sectors of the economy such as science and engineering where shortages exist;
The appointment of education attaches within each embassy to promote Irish education.

In order to raise quality and improve Irelands reputation, Fine Gael will also regulate the provision of education services to foreign students through a new licensing system.

The National Qualifications Authority of Ireland will become the licensing authority, taking a specific role in monitoring, inspecting and regulating international education.

Poor State co-ordination is stifling key sector

FGs policy document exposes our miserable performance in winning foreign students, writes Sen Flynn

IRELAND HAS many built-in advantages in the hunt for its share of the multibillion-euro foreign student market. As an English-speaking, neutral country with a strong literary tradition, Ireland of the Welcomes should be well placed to compete.

But Fine Gael was being gracious yesterday when it described Irelands performance as disappointing.

Within the education sector, many are less polite. Some complain that Ireland is not even on the radar for many potential students especially in Asia. Others complain about the lack of a co-ordinated approach between Government agencies.

The potential is vast. Its estimated that each foreign student will spend about 26,000 per year in their host country. And every 100 students will help to sustain 15 local jobs.

International students are worth some 12 billion to the British economy and account for 8 per cent of New Zealands foreign earnings.

But Ireland is playing catch-up. The total revenue generated by the higher education sector from foreign students is just 400 million annually. And numbers are in decline: between 2007 and 2008, student applications from India a key growth market were down by over 40 per cent.

The most pressing difficulty is the long delay in visa applications. A Chinese student can expect to wait a month for a visa; in Britain the process can be completed within 48 hours.

Fine Gael hopes its new fast-track visa system will address this issue.

But the key to a new approach is better co-ordination between the State agencies. At present, responsibility is dispersed between the departments of Education and Justice, Filte Ireland and Enterprise Ireland.

There is also little focused marketing of the higher education sector. The universities and the institutes of technology market their own areas. But there is no one State agency charged with spreading the very good news that Ireland has two universities (Trinity and UCD) ranked in the worlds top 100.

Fine Gael sees its new international education office as a one-stop shop that will deliver a more co-ordinated approach.

This kind of strategy will be welcomed by many in the sector who have grown tired of the various turf wars that have undermined Irelands potential in this sector.

Last summer, the Farmleigh economic summit also identified the strong potential of our international education sector.

The Government hopes to publish its own proposals shortly. Many of the proposals tabled yesterday by Fine Gael are likely to form part of the Governments new approach.