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International students are "very welcome" in Ireland

Ireland is opening its doors to international students. Earlier this year, a trade mission visited India with the very purpose of increasing awareness about the opportunities in Irish higher education. BrainGain Magazine spoke to delegates including the Minister of State - Mary Mitchell O'Connor, T.D.
BY Skendha Singh |   13-04-2018

  Mary Mitchell O'Connor, T.D., Irish Minister of State for Higher Education

Ireland is fast emerging as a popular destination for higher education. Today, Irish universities rank in the top 1% of international institutions in terms of research impact. The government also recognizes the higher education sector as an immense opportunity.

In February this year, the Irish Minister of State for Higher Education –  Mary Mitchell O’ Connor T.D., led the ‘Education in Ireland’ trade mission to India. The mission visited 5 Indian cities – Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi, New Delhi and Pune, with staff and academics from over 20 higher education institutions. The Minister said that the mission is part of the Irish government’s plan to increase the numbers of international students in Ireland from 33,000 to 44,000 by 2020.

The Minister and members of the mission, including the Ambassador of Ireland to India – H.E. Dr. Brian McElduff, and Senior Education Advisor India and Sri Lanka, Enterprise Ireland - Mr. Barry O’Driscoll, spoke to BrainGain Magazine about Irish higher education. Edited excerpts from the conversation are below:

  1. What do you think makes Ireland a great choice for international students?

    Minister O’Connor: Well, first of all, we’ve a very high standard of education. Our universities are ranked in the top 5% in the world, internationally. So, that’s the first piece of it. Then [students] also want to work, so we can offer them a 24-month work placement in Ireland. It’s also very linked – our universities and higher education institutions with our industry.
    And I think they’ve heard from students that have been in Ireland, as well as alumni, about how great a place it is! I’ve just met many students and parents - what they’re telling me, and we know this, is that one of the reasons they come to Ireland is it’s very safe. Irish people and people from India probably are friendly people. We seem to be able to understand each other.

    Mr. O’Driscoll: Adding to that because the minister mentioned the stay back option. It was last year that Ireland increased that from 12 to 24 months. And I think that’s one of the attractions to students, particularly master’s students. So, currently we have about 3000 Indians studying in Ireland - that’s undergrad, postgrad, and PhD. And the majority  would be at master’s level.

  2. How does an Irish education make a student employment ready?

    Minister O’Connor: We have the major international companies. We have the Facebooks, the Googles, and all the new technologies that are coming in. For example, artificial intelligence. And as I said, with placements, and our universities working closely with the industry - that’s what is making it really attractive.

    Mr. O’Driscoll: To add to that, a lot of our programs have a component where they would have a live project working with companies - either indigenous Irish companies or multinationals. So, they would do real live projects.A lot of the programs would have internships and work placements as well. Ireland is famous for very practical programs.

    Minister O’Connor: And the English language. We are a country that speaks English. And we will be, when Britain exits the EU, the only English-speaking majority country in the EU. We’re very aligned to the EU, so [the students] will get experience of working with, for example, research and projects in our universities and be exposed to all of that.

  3. That’s a wonderful point. Typically, Indian students studying internationally gravitate towards the STEM subjects. Is that also true of Ireland? And do you see it changing in the future?

    Minister O’Connor:They are very interested in the STEM subjects – many of the students that I’ve met [at the fair]. So, we’ve met students that wanted to study artificial intelligence, medicine, engineering. And we have all those schools in our colleges. We have statistics that will show you that we’re number one in nanotechnology. (Source: Thomson Reuters InCities Essential Science Indicators)

    Mr. O’Driscoll: Irish universities are in the top 1% in a lot of research fields. Certainly, we have been known for being very strong in the STEM subjects. But, we’re starting to get a lot of queries in other areas as well. For example, hotel management, hospitality, and tourism which is a big industry in Ireland as well. The NUI Galway has launched a master’s in business and hospitality. There’s a huge demand internationally for that kind of a program. And film studies, we get queries in that. So, we’re starting to get queries outside of the STEM area as well.

  4. The post-study work option is an important draw for international students. Ireland recently increased the duration from 12 to 24 months. Please tell us more about it.

    Minister O’Connor: We’ve just opened it up. It’s for our master’s students coming in to the country. We found it very positive. We’re welcoming, and we actually need people coming through. You know we have lots of jobs. And if visas and that work out, yes there will be work.
    But, at the same time, I can’t promise there will be jobs in the country.

  5. Please tell us more about the recently launched alumni network as well.

    Minister O’Connor: Yes, that’s very important. We launched it in the Ambassador’s residence.  International students coming to Ireland are ambassadors not only for education in [Ireland], but also, they come back to their own country and they get great work opportunities, and they become ambassadors for us.

    Ambassador McElduff: The education links between Ireland and India are really quite ancient. Going back 150 years, [before the] British period even. Because the great Irish contribution in India was to run schools – the Irish nuns and brothers built the top schools in India. So, I often refer to this. And I think it’s very appropriate that Indian students are going to Ireland. In the past, we lost contact with them. So, we do want to build on this database - the alumni network. We call it the affinity diaspora. It’s definitely going to be a huge resource for both countries.

  6. Indian parents are known to be protective of their children. Would you like to say anything to them?

    Minister O’Connor:Well, I think every parent is protective of their children. And I think they’re making an investment now in their children’s education. We know they’re making sacrifices - every parent does that, for their education.

    I can say that it’s safe, it’s a very nice place to study. And we did have a very nice experience recently in Tralee Institute of Technology, where we met a group of students from India and they told me how happy they were. It’s a very good, very safe culture in our universities, and in our institutes of technology.

    So yes, they’d be very welcome.


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