Driven by the Irish government’s internationalisation policies, Irish higher education institutions have put their focus on meeting the targets set, but face challenges regarding the integration, funding, and the implementation of the policy.
With 20,972 non-Irish students enrolled full-time in the academic year 2016/2017, Ireland’s higher education institutions meet the goals set by the Government’s international education strategy Investing in global relationships (2010-2015) and fuel those of the Irish educated, globally connected, and international education strategy for Ireland (2016-2020), despite important funding shortages in the Irish educational department.
One aim of the policy is to improve Ireland’s higher education international promotion, with the support of today’s context of globalisation. Because despite Ireland possessing major attractive points such as its membership in the EU, being an English-speaking country, and relatively cheaper education costs, other countries (such as the United Kingdom or the United-States) attract a much greater number of international students.
The internationalisation of Irish education also strives for the improvement of students’ skills, by preparing graduates for a globalised labour market where most careers involve an international context. This implies an internationalisation of the curriculum, a component of the policy which leaves many institutions confounded on how to implement it, as they feel that they lack guidelines. Other criticisms also point out the need for the curriculum to focus on the needs of the majority, which remains as domestic Irish students.
There are many issues faced by institutions, primarily concerning the ways to welcome and support international students. They are faced with a need for the implementation of pre-arrival, arrival, and also going-back programmes. Institutions must offer support and advice on international student’s specific issues, such as visas and access to accommodation. To date, this is by far the biggest problem faced by institutions, as only a limited number of them, among which UCD, can provide on-campus accommodation to its international students for the whole length of their degree. Such demands add to an already serious funding problem.
Overcoming these challenges, however, will result in great advantages for Irish students. This result is a wealth of valuable international experience from contact with multiple cultures and languages, improving communication skills and becoming more tolerant. Yet students are also faced with the problem of cultural barriers from mixing with international students. International events or societies are often confused for being restricted to international students only. Thus, Irish students reduce the benefits they could avail from the multicultural experience, as Irish and international students remain, for the most part, with their peers.