The Government has just announced its plan to increase the number of non-Irish students in higher education by 50% between now and 2015, and to increase the “value” of the university sector by one third to 1.2 bln euro. The news bulletin and press release emphasize the targets, but are hazy on the implementation. After some digging, the underlying report can be found too. In this regard at least, education has something to teach to the other departments.
The report has a snappy title and great graphics, but is a bit hazy on the actual plan. It would of course be great if tens of thousands of non-EEA students would flock to Irish universities and pay a hefty fee that would cross-subsidize Irish students. But why would they? Ireland has the advantage that it teaches in English — but so do Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and, indeed, the Netherlands. Parents who wonder where to send little Yuan or precious Sujata may look at one of the university rankings and decide that there are more prestigious universities elsewhere. Ireland could compete on price, but that defies the purpose. Why would the Irish taxpayer subsidize the education of foreigners?
These considerations are not part of the report. In fact, little thought is given to the students or their parents. Two concrete measures are proposed. First, it will be easier to obtain a student visa. Second, there will be a major branding campaign. While branding is largely in your own hands if you sell butter, lager or dance, education is a harder sell. Substance should back up the image. Sending your kid abroad for 3-4 years is a major decision. The potential client is well-informed.
The report has an interesting factlet: Ireland has the highest proportion of students in the EU who study abroad. If our own students have so little confidence in the Irish universities, why would foreign students want to pay for the same?