19 March 2010

Higher Education and the Irish Diaspora

St Patrick’s week offers an unparalleled annual opportunity to focus global attention on this small island. While there may be some misgivings over the dispersal of our government ministers to the four corners, in truth, for our senior politicians not to grasp the opportunity to represent Ireland in this positive fashion, would be a far greater dereliction of duty.

For the second year in a row, the Taoiseach met with President Obama in the White House, and there appears to be genuine warmth between the two men. Maybe it’s the Offaly connection, although I sense that Barack Obama is very much aware of the contribution which generations of Irish people have made to the US.

One of Brian Cowen’s duties, while in Washington was to launch the Ireland Homecoming Study Programme, which aims to encourage the descendents of Irish nationals and non-resident passport holders living outside the EU to return to Ireland for their higher education studies.

The programme is an initiative of Institutes of Technology Ireland, with eight IoTs participating: Athlone, Blanchardstown, Carlow, Cork, Dundalk, Galway/Mayo, Sligo and Waterford. It aims to attract over 500 students over the next three years and is expected to contribute an estimated €10m to the Irish economy.

The IHSP will offer tuition costs to qualifying students of up to 40 per cent less than the standard rate for non-EU students. The fee for the 2010/2011 intake will be €5,950. Students from overseas will be able to undertake undergraduate degree courses or shorter study courses.

This is, of course, just one part of Irish HEIs’ strategy to attract a greater cohort of international students; and indeed these days seem to be marked by a plethora of other policy and plan launches (more about these later) aimed at internationalising Irish education. What is encouraging, however, is the amount of hits showing up on Google for the launch. The coming months will tell a lot in terms of the success of the programme.

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