Following on from Provost Patrick Prendergast’s promise in 2014 to increase the percentage of non-EU students in Trinity to 18 per cent by 2019, the College has been striving to reach these targets by a number of different means. So far, they have been largely successful. Since 2012, the number of non-EU students, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, has increased from 1,233 to 2,139, representing approximately 12.5 per cent of the student population. Trinity currently has two full-time staff members and one part-time staff member working in the US, in addition to a North American Regional Officer. All of these roles involve traveling to college fairs and making school visits across the US, as well as contacting parents and prospective students on a day-to-day basis. Trinity also has permanent staff members in China and India who maintain relationships with alumni in those countries and co-ordinate any high-profile visits from the Provost or the Vice-President for Global Relations.
In an effort to increase non-EU student recruitment, Trinity has been holding open days in various cities across the US. Last year, these open days took place in three cities, while this year they have increased to five, representing the increasing demand for Irish third-level education. Speaking to The University Times, Sinéad Ryan, Director of Internationalisation with Trinity Global Relations, emphasises how invaluable these open days are to their recruitment initiative. “We’re running open days in cities across the US at the moment”, she explains. “We had 140 people in Boston [one] Sunday and 60 to 70 in Chicago, and it was the first time we’ve tried something like this in Chicago. Each of them had a large mix of students looking to apply for this year and for next year.” There was also a large mix of “undergraduate students and postgrads too”. Alumni living in these cities and students who completed exchanges in Trinity have also offered their assistance at these open days. They have been very helpful in offering prospective students first-hand experience as to what attending Trinity is like, which Ryan believes to be very helpful to the students.
We’ve seen in results from the National Student Barometer Survey that a visit to campus in Trinity has a very positive impact on decisions to study here, more so than the average university
Lara Gander, a second-year medicine student from Hong Kong, applied far and wide before deciding that Trinity was the right university for her. Speaking to The University Times, she outlined her decision-making process: “I applied for the UK, Spain, Czech Republic. I didn’t want to go to America because I would have to do pre-med there. Also, when I was in Hong Kong, I went to an English school, so I wanted to avoid an English-based system.” Having met some Irish expatriates living in Hong Kong, the idea of studying in Ireland was planted in her mind and she subsequently successfully applied to Trinity.
Audrey Williams, a third-year European studies student from Massachusetts in the US, was also more attracted to the Irish third-level system compared to the American one. “I think I was drawn to the European model of being able to go really in depth into subjects that you’re actually interested in”, she explains. “As opposed to the American liberal arts college style where you have to study a whole range of topics. So the Irish education model just appealed to me in that sense.”
Williams continued by saying that visiting the campus played a part in her decision to come to Trinity: “I visited the College when I got in and I fell in love instantly, more than any of the other 20 or so colleges that I had visited. I just stepped foot on campus and I knew that it was the right place.” This trend of visiting vast swathes of colleges is much more common for those from non-EU countries, where the amount of choice available is significantly higher. This makes the fact that these students choose to study in Trinity all the more remarkable.
Ross Cooke, a third-year nanoscience student and Trinity College Students’ Union’s (TCDSU) International Officer, who comes from Chicago, Illinois, had a similar experience. He visited Trinity while in Dublin for a sports competition. “While I was here, I saw the College and thought it was cool. I decided to ask about a tour option, and after I took the tour I thought it was a really nice place, and I applied”, he explains. These are not isolated incidents, according to Ryan. “We’ve seen in results from the National Student Barometer Survey that a visit to campus in Trinity has a very positive impact on decisions to study here, more so than the average university”, she explains. Ryan believes that the on-campus tours organised by the Global Room student ambassadors has contributed to this, with the Global Room revealing that they have received over 270 campus tour requests since December 2016.
Both Cooke and Williams note that, although they had no interaction with Trinity at high school college fairs before their applications, since their acceptance College has attended fairs at their school and in the surrounding area. Ryan acknowledges this, saying: “I suppose, like everything else, word of mouth and the quality of the experience speaks to people.” Due to this, they have decided to reach out to areas where there is already an interest.
Irish fees also played a role in attracting Cooke and Williams as, despite the higher fees for non-EU students compared to EU students, the non-EU fees are still considerably lower than those in the US.
Speaking to The University Times, Dr Sean O’Reilly, the Student Recruitment Officer in the Global Office, acknowledges, alongside Ryan, that Brexit will have an effect on applications to Trinity. This will affect students from the UK, EU applicants and other non-EU applicants from further afield. As for UK applicants, Irish universities have come together under the Irish Universities Association (IUA) to ensure that students that start in 2017, and those that have started their degree over the last two years, will be charged as EU students for the duration of their degree. They hope that this will dispel any uncertainty potential applicants may be feeling since the triggering of Article 50 on March 29th.
We’re going to be the premiere English-speaking university in the EU when Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh leave
Ryan thinks that Brexit may encourage some students that would otherwise have applied to UK universities to apply to Trinity, but does not feel that it will have as large an effect as is being widely claimed. Trinity’s Brexit taskforce, which includes some of the College’s most senior officers, will be considering the impact of the UK’s decision to leave the EU over the coming months, as well as the opportunities for the College. “The universities in the UK have not been attracting the best students from around the world because they are in the European Union, they have been attracting them because they are excellent universities and they are very highly ranked”, she explains. She thinks, however, that students’ perception of the UK as a result of Brexit may affect some applications for UK universities. “It’s more the immigration policies and the echoes from that of not being a welcoming environment that will affect applications”, she says. This is in comparison to an Irish government policy which “extends the right for students to stay and work here after they have completed a master’s-level programme from one to two years”. Ryan notes that this “is certainly having a positive impact on applications for us, particularly from countries like India”.
O’Reilly reiterates the positive consequences of Brexit for Trinity, saying that “we need to look at what the opportunities are for Trinity. We’re going to be the premiere English-speaking university in the EU when Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh leave”.
No one can deny that non-EU students are attractive to universities for the financial benefits they bring, but College is saying that isn’t the sole reason it wants to attract them. “What we’re trying to do is to tell people about Trinity”, says O’Reilly. This means selling Trinity, not based on where you come from, but on “what Trinity is like if you come here to study”.