Few things in the Irish higher education system are more transparent than policy makers and senior institution leadership’s commitment to attracting international students. Their justification often touches on increasing diversity and promoting a more international outlook in higher education.
It ought to be said that there are people in the system who genuinely believe in the value of educating international students, those who truly believe in a European or global project and who are committed to the idea of an academic community that spans continents, creeds and languages. The problem lies with the people who hijack those sentiments in an effort to disguise their true motivations when it comes to attracting international students: money.
Non-EU students are subject to non-EU fees. If you want to get an idea of how far institutions are willing to go regarding fees, ask your Brazilian, Chinese, American or any other non-EU classmates what their tuition fees come to.
Few things in the Irish higher education system are more transparent than policy makers and senior institution leadership’s commitment to attracting international students
If giraffes suddenly became as valuable to third-level colleges as non-EU students are, I could guarantee that governing bodies throughout the country would have five-year action plans by the end of the week, detailing how best to attract more giraffes to enroll at Ireland’s universities.
Each plan would be peppered with references to the integral part played by long-necked, sub-Saharan, African plains mammals in Irish higher education. Every precaution would be taken to make sure that no one mentioned the money these cash cows would bring in, however. There was an excellent example of this in the Irish Times recently, when they reported that there would be insurance hikes for international students. The move was described as a blow to the government’s plan to increase the number of international students by 25 per cent so as to raise €2 billion.
It is hard to blame higher-level institutions for doing this, however. As funding has gradually been reduced, institutions have been forced to be more innovative in order to keep the lights on. Across the country, fees have increased for everything from student card replacements to exam repeats. Some institutions went further than others, the repugnant “graduation fee” being one example of this.
Few institutions were able to resist the allure of the non-EU international student. The Department of Education, seeing an opportunity to alleviate the problem without having to put their hands in their own pockets, were happy to oblige.
The central mission of our higher education system has changed from imbuing our scholars with knowledge and skill to accumulating cold, hard cash just to stay afloat – and few revenue streams are more valuable than our non-EU friends.
The central mission of our higher education system has changed from imbuing our scholars with knowledge and skill to accumulating cold, hard cash just to stay afloat
This very quickly becomes a problem because the attitude bleeds, however unintentionally, into the way these students are taught. Their academic effort, performance and experience take a back seat to the revenue they produce.
It is sometimes difficult to see what else these institutions could have done. We do have to face reality at some point, and the reality is that the higher-education system is starved of funding. However, it is equally frustrating to listen to a plethora of speeches about the value of international students from people whose pupils have been replaced by euro symbols.
The treatment of international students in recent years has left a lot to be desired on a number of levels. While it goes without saying that these students are receiving a world-class education, the intentions of those that attract them here are not of the same calibre.