Ireland woos South Asians amid global policy shift

Published 03/04/2024

With the UK government reviewing its Graduate Route visa, Australia imposing stricter English language requirements and Canada setting up a temporary study permit cap, another Anglophone country is seeing success in gaining international students from Southern Asia.

In recent years, Ireland has been attracting South Asian students with its biggest market in the region, India, sending over 7,000 students to Ireland in 2023 from a mere 700 in 2013.

Education in Ireland, responsible for promoting the country’s higher education institutions overseas, has been using this momentum to organise education fairs across India, with stakeholders suggesting Indian graduates could benefit companies in Ireland suffering labour shortages.

Students from Pakistan have also been attracted to Ireland’s Data Analytics, Digital Marketing, Accounting, and Nursing courses, according to the non-government affiliated Ireland Education Office.

“Apart from Ireland being an English-speaking country and in the EU, the government of Ireland’s GOIS Scholarships, economical fee/ visa process also appeal to many students,” its director Osamah Qureshi told The PIE.

“We need a more consistent visa policy”

However, despite Ireland’s increasing popularity in Pakistan, there are still some obstacles that need to be addressed.

“The major issue with Ireland is its brand awareness among students. We need a more consistent visa policy and increased visits by Irish institutions to Pakistan,” added Qureshi.

Sri Lanka is also gaining traction, with the government’s Education in Ireland team for South Asia visiting Colombo with 11 representatives from Irish universities, colleges and technological universities in recent weeks.

Technological University of the Shannon has over 250 students currently from the South Asia region, with demand growing annually, Ishita Singh, regional advisor for South Asia at TUS, told The PIE.

“South Asia has primarily been a postgraduate-focused market but we are witnessing an increase in undergraduate study abroad,” she said.

Students are attracted to specialised fields like healthcare, engineering, science, information technology, business, art & design and hospitality, with merit-based scholarships also available offering up to €4,000.

Regional manager for India & South Asia, supporting Trinity College Dublin at MBEC, Nilanjana Shihn agreed, stating that South Asian students are increasingly looking for undergraduate programs.

“We regularly visit local schools and guidance counsellors in India and South Asia,” Shihn said.

“South Asian students have had a strong interest in STEM and business courses but we are seeing growing diversity in subject areas with law, medicine, psychology and social sciences.”

Of Trinity’s student body, 34% comprise international students hailing from 125 countries, according to Shihn.

“We are seeing growing diversity in subject areas”

Experts believe that Ireland’s new global Talent and Innovation Strategy – which proposes to develop a physical presence in six priority locations by 2030 to increase the country’s global footprint – signifies its commitment towards international students.

Announced by outgoing minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and likely next taoiseach Simon Harris, the strategic initiative is “designed to position Ireland as the preferred destination for international learners, researchers, and innovators”, according to Meti Basiri, CEO of ApplyBoard.

However, major challenges such as the accommodation crisis and racism have kept South Asian students cautious of the Emerald Isle.

Irish Council for International Students found that 13% of 819 respondents to its survey said they had been scammed regarding accommodation while in Ireland.

Qureshi said that students are guided to find accommodation as soon as they receive offer letters rather than waiting for visa decisions.

Ireland Education Office is also linked with accommodation providers, while further Irish institutions are providing both on- and off-campus support for housing, he asserted.

In 2023 riots erupted in Dublin, with anti-immigrant protesters blamed. Since, racial incidents have become commonplace, some students say.

“Though most locals are nice, the racial bias has become very obvious,” said Parth Parker, a student of Financial Analytics at University College Dublin.

“Sometimes when I travel by bus, some individuals will not sit next to me despite it being the only seat available. I believe the government didn’t handle the public perception about the riots well as it negatively affects us as well.”

But despite such negative experiences, students are willing to give the EU country a chance.

Over 550 students from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka participated in Education Ireland’s February 8 virtual fair.

“This event has not only reinforced Ireland’s stand as a premier destination for international students, but also showcased our nation’s burgeoning reputation for educational excellence,” said Kevin Kelly, Ireland’s ambassador to India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Maldives.

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